Sunday, September 16, 2012

Science and SF Tidbits: September 16, 2012

Some of the science and SF links originally posted on Google+Biology in Science Fiction on Google+Twitter, and Facebook over the past week.

Interesting New Science Fiction Publications

This graphic novel version of A Wrinkle in Time by Hope Larson looks pretty neat. This is one of my favorite novels from my youth. Check out this book trailer (via Atomic Bear Press)

Excellent science fiction editor Ellen Datlow has a new ebook out of her 1990 collection of short fiction, all about "psychological exploration of the many shades of love" (aka Alien Sex). There's a foreward by William Gibson, and stories by master SF storytellers Harlan Ellison, Connie Willis, Pat Cadigan,  Pat Murphy, James Tiptree Jr. and more. Yes, the table of contents is right out of the golden Omni era - maybe it dates me, but that's what makes it sound awesome!

SF and Science

At MIT Technology Review, editor Jason Pontin talked to Neal Stephenson about writing and technology. In this clip, Stephenson talks about "predictions" in his writing, particularly Snow Crash.  I usually think of Stephenson's novels as mostly being firmly set in a world with present-day or only slightly extrapolated technology, so it's easy to forget how much the online landscape has changed since Snow Crash was first published in 1992.

What happens when female characters are given a male point of view? It's so normalized in our culture that you may not even notice if you aren't paying close attention.  (Also "The Omniscient Breasts" would make a great title for a horror short story. They are watching you!)

Space Science

We are all made of star stuff! (Or we are all sparkly vampires?)

The student winners of the YouTube Space Lab contest got to see their proposed experiments performed on the International Space Station and hang out with Bill Nye and the astronauts. 
And if you want more spiders in space, check out this video of Nefertiti the redback spider dining: Nefertiti, the redback spider, feeding in microgravity

The NASA MAVEN probe will study the atmosphere of Mars. Maybe they can figure out why the Atmosphere Plant broke down so the Barsoomians can return home...

Cool Bioscience

The idea of human-controlled roaches is creepy both in the literal and figurative sense. While the technology might be able to use roaches to help in search-and-rescue efforts in disaster zones, it could also be used to create mobile spies that could travel through walls and other small spaces to gather intelligence.

Why not look to nature for engineering innovations that work, rather than working from scratch? From the article: 
Though biomimicry has inspired human innovations for decades—one of the most often-cited examples is Velcro, which the Swiss engineer Georges de Mestral patented in 1955 after studying how burs stuck to his clothes—better technology and more nuanced research have enabled increasingly complex adaptions. Design software created by German researcher Claus Mattheck—and used in Opel and Mercedes cars—reflects the ways trees and bones distribute strength and loads. A fan created by Pax Scientific borrows from the patterns of swirling kelp, nautilus and whelks to move air more efficiently. A saltwater-irrigated greenhouse in the Qatari desert will use condensation and evaporation tricks gleaned from the nose of a camel. Now, thanks in part to continuing innovations in nanoscale fabrication, manufacturers are bringing an expanding array of products to market.
Plankton are like microscopic alien gems. They glow and grow while drifting in the currents, where they make up an important part of oceanic ecosystem. They represent a wide range of different organisms, including plants, animals, bacteria, and archaea. Check out the videos at the Plankton Chronicles for a close up look.

These tropical frogs are called "glassfrogs" because their underbellies are transparent. But it's not simple transparency: there is a layer of reflective cells that protect the frogs' internal organs from heat and sunlight. Pretty wild. 
I am bothered a bit that one of the scientists who studies glassfrogs insists that there must be an evolutionary purpose for their transparency. It seems to me that it's just as plausible that there could be a relatively simple set of genetic changes that make their skin transparent, and that is not selected against because it's not deleterious to the frogs' reproductive abilities or lifespan. In any case, they are fascinating to look at.

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