Bursting your bubble

From the BBC, bubbly coolness:

With the help of high speed video, scientists have discovered that there is far more to bursting bubbles than meets the eye.

Under the right conditions, a bursting bubble on a liquid surface does not simply vanish, but creates a perfect ring of tiny “daughter bubbles”.

This occurs as the ruptured bubble retracts into the liquid, forming a doughnut shape of trapped air.

Bubble bursting image from the BBC

More science and music on Radio 4

Three Radio 4 Today Show stories caught my ear on the drive to work this morning, one about music and two about science:

  • Markings on a carving from Stirling Castle could be surviving pieces of 16th-century written Scottish instrumental music. While detailed music was still being passed down audibly at the time, written music was sort of a guideline around which musicians would improvise.
  • The British Institution of Mechanical Engineers has suggested three ways to reduce global warming and buy ourselves some time to get to a lower-carbon civilisation. Their three practical and short-term geo-engineering ideas are:
    1. Artificial trees that capture carbon dioxide from the air via a filter. This sounds like a great idea.
    2. Transparent containers on the outside of buildings containing algae which would remove carbon dioxide from the air during photosynthesis. This, to me, also sounds like a great idea.
    3. Reducing the amount of incoming solar radiation by reflecting sunlight back into space via buildings with reflective roofs. This, to me, sounds like it wouldn’t accomplish much. How much of the earth’s surface is actually covered by building roofs?
  • Researchers have found a potential way to avoid inherited mitochondrial disorders. Women with genetic faults in their mitochondria run the risk of having babies with disorders if an egg with those faulty mitochondria is the one that gets fertilised. Previous attempts to inject healthy mitochondria have failed.  But a group at Oregon Health and Science University have now removed the DNA from monkey eggs (leaving behind the potentially diseased genes in the mitochondria), and transplanted it into eggs emptied of DNA but containing healthy mitochondria. The result: three apparently healthy monkeys.

Musical Migrants: BBC Radio 4 show on moving for the music

There was a good series on Radio 4 last week called Musical Migrants. They were 30-minute programmes that charted the biographies of people who moved to another country because of music. I caught two shows and found both fascinating:

  • A Dutch woman named Stella Rodrigues gave up her plan to become a concert violinist when she heard the fiddle playing in Irish folk music, and ended up moving to the Emerald Isle. Her description of the ettiquette of live Irish folk playing is funny, as is her naturally blunt Dutch tendency to ignore some of those rules.
  • An American named Carl Linich heard Georgian folk music – mutli-parta capella male choirs – and fell for it so hard he moved to that nation when it was embroiled in civil war.

It’s great to hear stories about people who were so moved by music that they relocated from home, friends and family for it.

You can catch the last couple of shows on the iPlayer for another few days if you’re in the UK and you’re quick.

Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life: David Attenborough’s not done with science broadcasting yet!

While some parts of the world watch that lamest of top-tier sporting events, the Superbowl, Brits should be spending their Sunday evening watching David Attenborough’s latest show, Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life.

In this programme, David Attenborough asks three key questions: how, and why, did Darwin come up with his theory of evolution? Why do we think he was right? And why is it more important now than ever before?

2009 is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin and the 150th anniversary of the publication On The Origin Of Species.

Tom Feilden’s blog says what we all think: Attenborough’s a national treasure, and we’re glad that he’s not done explaining the wonders of nature to us.

Adding seconds

Time – and the major events we use to define it – has flexed with our increasing ability to measure it. Thus, our years aren’t exactly 365 days long. The Earth takes a little longer than that to get around the Sun, so we occassionally have leap years.

Similarly, since the length of a day – 24 hours of 60 minutes of 60 seconds – was defined, scientists have been able to make increasingly accurate measurements of the time it takes the earth to turn on its axis. And from time to time – 23 times, in fact, since 1972 – scientists have had to add leap seconds.

2009 thus started one second later than you would normally have expected it to. This BBC article gives more detail on why and how. It also describes how the keepers of Big Ben adjust its running time by inserting pennies into the works to slow things down.

BBC Street Science 4: the MMR vaccine

The fourth installment of BBC Radio 4’s Street Science series last week saw immunisation expert Dr. David Elliman visiting Lambeth, an area with one of the lowest rates of Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) vaccinnation following the autism scare.

I’ve blogged before about that shameful bit of anti-science and the damaging results. Although immunisation rates are now improving again it’s shocking tostill hear misinformed parents putting their own (and other) children at risk. And, because of past inaction, Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science notes that measles cases are still increasing in parts of the UK, and the media’s still biased in favour of fear.