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Mig 15

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June 30, 2010 Posted by | Transportation | | Leave a comment

1918 Flu Epidemic

Nurse wearing a mask as protection against influenza. September 13, 1918.

In October of 1918, Congress approved a $1 million budget for the U. S. Public Health Service to recruit 1000 medical doctors and over 700 registered nurses. Nurses were scarce, as their proximity to and interaction with the disease increased the risk of death.1918 Flu Epidemic

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June 30, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment

James Watson

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Hot Spots

Figure 1: Atmospheric temperature change from 1890 to 1990 from (a) solar forcing, (b) volcanoes, (c) greenhouse gases, (d) ozone, (e) sulfate aerosols and (f) sum of all forcing (IPCC AR4).

The source of the confusion is box c, showing the modelled temperature change from greenhouse gases. Note the strong hot spot. Does this mean the greenhouse effect causes the hot spot? Not directly. Greenhouse gases cause surface warming which changes the lapse rate leading to the hot spot. The reason the hot spot in box c is so strong is because greenhouse warming is so strong compared to the other forcings.

The hot spot is not a unique greenhouse signature and finding the hot spot doesn't prove that humans are causing global warming. Observing the hot spot would tell us we have a good understanding of how the lapse rate changes. As the hot spot is well observed over short timescales (Trenberth 2006Santer 2005), this increases our confidence that we're on track. That leaves the question of the long-term trend.

What does the full body of evidence tell us? We have satellite data plus weather balloon measurements of temperature and wind strength. The three satellite records from UAH, RSS and UWA give varied results. UAH show tropospheric trends less than surface warming, RSS are roughly the same and UWA show a hot spot. The difference between the three is how they adjust for effects like decaying satellite orbits. The conclusion from the U.S. Climate Change Science Program (co-authored by UAH's John Christy) is the most likely explanation for the discrepancy between model and satellite observations is measurement uncertainty.

Weather balloon measurements are influenced by effects like the daytime heating of the balloons. When these effects are adjusted for, the weather balloon data is broadly consistent with models  (Titchner 2009Sherwood 2008Haimberger 2008). Lastly, there is measurements of wind strength from weather balloons. The direct relationship between temperature and wind shear allows us to empirically obtain a temperature profile of the atmosphere. This method finds a hot spot (Allen 2008).

Looking at all this evidence, the conclusion is, well, a little unsatisfying – there is still much uncertainty in the long-term trend. It's hard when the short-term variability is nearly an order of magnitude greater than the long-term trend. Weather balloons and satellites do a good job of measuring short-term changes and indeed find a hot spot over monthly timescales. There is some evidence of a hot spot over timeframes of decades but there's still much work to be done in this department. Conversely, the data isn't conclusive enough to unequivocally say there is no hot spot.

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June 30, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment

Taste Receptors

Taste receptors, chemical kinetics and equilibrium


We recently published an interesting Thesis article by Bruce Gibb called "Life is the variety of spice" and have since received a comment that seeks to extend the ideas originally discussed.

Gavin Armstrong (Associate Editor, Nature Chemistry)


In an insightful article in the January 2010 issue of Nature Chemistry, Bruce Gibb proposed the addition of curry-making to undergraduate organic chemistry labs. Curry-making is a classic example of a practical aspect of chemistry (molecular gastronomy) that laymen tend to ignore. Initially the reagents (spices) are heated (fried) in oil so as to overcome the different activation barriers. After that, water is added to the mixture and boiled, driving the reaction towards equilibrium. There are many rate constants in the first step which is one of the reasons that the ingredients must be heated stepwise at various temperatures. During the final reflux, multiple equilibrium constants are set up. Hence the concentrations of the different spices assume immense importance. A little on the higher side and the curry can become extremely spicy. In fact, the science is delightfully complex and it is astonishing that curry making works more often than not.

While seconding the author’s proposal, we also feel that one should consider adding part of the culinary class to the biochemistry curriculum. The author discusses the essential structural implications of the different curry ingredients and their mutual physico-chemical interactions while it is being prepared. Additionally, one needs to appreciate the biochemical interactions of the curry after consumption and how it’s different ingredients stimulate a diverse array of distinct receptors (often simultaneously) [Gerhold & Bautista, 2009]. Capsaicin, black pepper and garlic all stimulate the TRPV1 receptor [McNamara et al., 2005] whose activation leads to the typical burning sensation. Various oils and cloves stimulate the TRPV3 receptor (highly expressed in the nose) [Xu et al., 2006]. It is the combined downstream effect of these various taste and olfactory receptor stimulations that leads us to appreciate the flavor of curry coupled with the aroma and warmth of cloves.

It is interesting to note that this is not the only way that the TRPV receptors have been put to use in society. In eastern India, plans are underway to equip the police with ‘bhut jolokia’[Liu & Nair, 2010 and Bosland & Baral, 2007] — the world’s hottest pepper — in an aerosol spray to disperse unruly mobs or immobilize rioters non-violently. Gibb noted that peppers evolved to produce capsaicinoids to ward off herbivores, today these peppers are being used by human intruders as ‘smoke bombs’ to keep wild animals at bay in remote forests.

Culinary science has for a long time been treated as an art by cooks around the world and they are mostly ignorant of the science lurking behind a good recipe. Most programs in gastronomy do little to emphasize its molecular aspects. While good food is certainly aesthetic, it is the chemists who can also appreciate the science behind it. While chemists might not become dedicated cooks, a basic culinary education does have implications in the real world; and trained individuals might cherish the opportunity to apply it in their daily lives and career. Thus there are multiple reasons why we would like to highlight the contribution made by biochemists in understanding culinary science.

Finally, a comprehension of the science behind the curry will certainly make a better cook and good food is a universal healer.

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June 30, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | | Leave a comment

1918 Flu Epidemic

Directive from Washington, D.C., regarding treatment and procedures. September 26, 1918,
Naval Districts and Shore Establishments.
The Navy Department tried to prevent the spread of the influenza by educating sailors about protecting themselves. In Circular No. 1, the Navy’s Bureau of Sanitation suggests fresh air, adequate sleep, and fluids to stay healthy.

Directive Washington DC

June 30, 2010 Posted by | disaster, history, medicine, plague | | Leave a comment

James Watson: The double helix and today’s DNA mysteries

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June 30, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment


prelude op.28
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June 29, 2010 Posted by | music | | Leave a comment

Fresh Tomato Pie

1 (9 inch) pie shell
7 ripe tomatoes, sliced
1 yellow onion
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
ground black pepper to taste
2 teaspoons fresh basil
2 teaspoons fresh oregano
What’s Next:
Go ahead & preheat your oven to 350 F or 175 C.
Bake the pastry shell for 8 to 10 minutes or until browned.
Slice onion and place in the bottom of pastry shell. Slice tomatoes and arrange over onions. Add black pepper to taste.
In a medium bowl- combine mozzarella, parmesan and mayonnaise. Spread this mixture evenly over tomatoes.
Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Once cooked, garnish with fresh herbs

Tomato Pie

June 29, 2010 Posted by | cooking | | Leave a comment


Judith and Holofernes, 1599 (oil on canvas) by Caravaggio, Michelangelo Merisi da (1571-1610) Palazzo Barberini, Rome, Italy
Caravaggio’s art is made from darkness and light. His pictures present spotlit moments of extreme and often agonised human experience. A man is decapitated in his bedchamber, blood spurting from a deep gash in his neck. A man is assassinated on the high altar of a church. Faces are brightly illuminated. Yet always the shadows encroach, pools of blackness that threaten to obliterate all.
Caravaggio’s life is like his art, a series of lightning flashes in the darkest of nights. He was one of the most original artists ever to have lived, yet we have only one solitary sentence from him on the subject of painting – the sincerity of which is, in any case, questionable, since it was elicited when he was under interrogation for the capital crime of libel.

Related Articles
Caravaggio: a Life Sacred and Profane by Andrew Graham-Dixon: review
Much of what is known about him has been discovered in the criminal archives of his time. He lived much of his life as a fugitive, but is caught, now and again, by the sweeping beam of a searchlight.
Caravaggio throws stones at the house of his landlady and sings ribald songs outside her window. He has a fight with a waiter about the dressing on a plate of artichokes. He taunts a rival with graphic sexual insults. He attacks a man in the street. He is involved in a fatal swordfight.
Anyone attempting a biography of Caravaggio must play the detective as well as the art historian. His life can easily seem merely chaotic, the rise and fall of an incurable hot-head, a man so governed by passion that his actions unfold without rhyme or reason.
But there is a logic to it all and, with hindsight, a tragic inevitability.

Judith and Holofernes

June 28, 2010 Posted by | art, middle ages | | Leave a comment