What Kangaroos, Honey Bees, and the 508-million-year-old Waptia Have in Common

Long before kangaroos carried joeys in pouches and honey bees nurtured their young in hives, there was the 508-million-year-old Waptia.

Little is known about the shrimp-like creature first discovered in the Canadian Burgess Shale fossil deposit a century ago, but a new study has uncovered eggs with embryos preserved within the body of the animal. Scientists say it is the oldest example of brood care in the fossil record.

“As the oldest direct evidence of a creature caring for its offspring, the discovery adds another piece to our understanding of brood care practices during the Cambrian Explosion, a period of rapid evolutionary development when most major animal groups appear in the fossil record,” says Jean-Bernard Caron, curator of invertebrate paleontology at the Royal Ontario Museum and associate professor of Earth sciences and ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Toronto.

Waptia fieldensis is an early arthropod, belonging to a group of animals that includes lobsters and crayfish. It had a two-part structure covering the front segment of its body near the head, known as a bivalved carapace. Researchers believe the carapace played a fundamental role in how the creature practiced brood care.

“Clusters of egg-shaped objects are evident in five of the many specimens we observed, all located on the underside of the carapace and alongside the anterior third of the body,” says Caron, author of the study in Current Biology.

The clusters are grouped in a single layer on each side of the body with no or limited overlapping among the eggs. In some specimens, eggs are equidistant from each other, while in others, some are are closer together, probably reflecting variations in the angle of burial and movement during burial. The maximum number of eggs preserved per individuals probably reached 24.

“This creature is expanding our perspective on the diversification of brood care in early arthropods,” says coauthor Jean Vannier of the French National Centre for Scientific Research.

“The relatively large size of the eggs and the small number of them, contrasts with the high number of small eggs found previously in another bivalved arthropod known as Kunmingella douvillei. And though that creature predates Waptia by about seven million years, none of its eggs contained embryos.”

Kunmingella douvillei also presented a different method of carrying its young, as its eggs were found lower on the body and attached to its appendages.

The presence of these two different parental strategies suggests an independent and rapid evolution of a variety of methods of parental care of offspring. Together with previously described brooded eggs in ostracods from the Upper Ordovician period 450 million years ago, the discovery supports the theory that the presence of a bivalved carapace played a key role in the early evolution of brood care in arthropods.


Republished as a derivative work from Futurity.org under the Attribution 4.0 International license. Original article posted to Futurity by .

Featured Image Credit: Obsidian Soul/Wikimedia Commons

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NASA’s Amazing 2015 – Looking Back [Video]

From Mars to Enceladus to Pluto & Ceres and beyond, not to mention right here on Earth, just about anyone would agree that for NASA 2015 was a fabulous year.

A great retrospective article on the NASA website sums it all up:

In 2015, NASA explored the expanse of our solar system and beyond, and the complex processes of our home planet, while also advancing the technologies for our journey to Mars, and new aviation systems as the agency reached new milestones aboard the International Space Station.

“It was a fantastic year that brought us even closer to Mars,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “Our space program welcomed advances from commercial partners who will soon launch astronauts from the United States to the International Space Station, and progress on new technologies and missions to take us into deep space, improve aviation and explore our universe and home planet.”

For more details on the incredible accomplishments from NASA this year, check out the rest of their great summary article on NASA.gov.


Source: NASA.gov – “NASA Reaches New Heights in 2015”

Coming Soon: Your Smartphone as a 3-D Scanner

A new algorithm could bring high-quality 3D scanning capability to off-the-shelf digital cameras and smartphones.

“One of the things my lab has been focusing on is getting 3D image capture from relatively low-cost components,” says Gabriel Taubin, associate professor of engineering and computer science at Brown University. “The 3D scanners on the market today are either very expensive or are unable to do high-resolution image capture, so they can’t be used for applications where details are important.”

Most high-quality 3D scanners capture images using a technique known as structured light. A projector casts a series of light patterns on an object, while a camera captures images of the object. The ways in which those patterns deform over and around an object can be used to render a 3D image.

But for the technique to work, the pattern projector and the camera have to be precisely synchronized, which requires specialized and expensive hardware.

The algorithm Taubin and his students have developed, however, enables the structured light technique to be done without synchronization between projector and camera, which means an off-the-shelf camera can be used with an untethered structured light flash.

The camera just needs to have the ability to capture uncompressed images in burst mode (several successive frames per second), which many DSLR cameras and smartphones can do.

The researchers presented a paper describing the algorithm last month at the SIGGRAPH Asia computer graphics conference.

Structured light scanning normally requires a projector and camera to be synchronized. A new technique eliminates the need for synchronization, which makes it possible to do structured light scanning with a smartphone. (Credit: Taubin Lab/Brown University)


The problem in trying to capture 3D images without synchronization is that the projector could switch from one pattern to the next while the image is in the process of being exposed. As a result, the captured images are mixtures of two or more patterns.

A second problem is that most modern digital cameras use a rolling shutter mechanism. Rather than capturing the whole image in one snapshot, cameras scan the field either vertically or horizontally, sending the image to the camera’s memory one pixel row at a time. As a result, parts of the image are captured at slightly different times, which also can lead to mixed patterns.

“That’s the main problem we’re dealing with,” says Daniel Moreno, a graduate student who led the development of the algorithm. “We can’t use an image that has a mixture of patterns. So with the algorithm, we can synthesize images—one for every pattern projected—as if we had a system in which the pattern and image capture were synchronized.”

After the camera captures a burst of images, the algorithm calibrates the timing of the image sequence using the binary information embedded in the projected pattern. Then it goes through the images, pixel by pixel, to assemble a new sequence of images that captures each pattern in its entirety.

Once the complete pattern images are assembled, a standard structured light 3D reconstruction algorithm can be used to create a single 3D image of the object or space.

In their SIGGRAPH paper, the researchers showed that the technique works just as well as synchronized structured light systems. During testing, the researchers used a fairly standard structured light projector, but the team envisions working to develop a structured light flash that could eventually be used as an attachment to any camera, now that there’s an algorithm that can properly assemble the images.

“We think this could be a significant step in making precise and accurate 3D scanning cheaper and more accessible,” Taubin says.

The National Science Foundation funded the research.


Republished from Futurity.org as a derivative work under the Attribution 4.0 International license. Original article published on Futurity by  .

Featured Image Credit: jeshoots.com, CC0 public domain


Physicist Shows How He Creates Identical Twin Snowflakes [Video]

Conventional wisdom has always said that no two snowflakes are alike—until now.

Kenneth Libbrecht, a Caltech physics professor, has created nearly identical “designer snowflakes” out of ice crystals in his laboratory, where he studies the molecular dynamics of crystal growth, especially ice crystal growth.

Libbrecht also takes amazing photos of natural snowflakes and has produced videos of designer snowflakes growing in the lab.

In this video, he explains how he does it:


Republished as a derivative work from Futurity.org under the Attribution 4.0 International license. Original article published on Futurity by .

Featured Image Credit:  Kenneth Libbrecht/SnowCrystals.com

New Scientific Research Survey Explores the Benefits of Rudolph’s Red Nose.

One could say that scientists are always looking into the edgiest things that they can think of, and Dartmouth Nathaniel J. Dominy is no exception.  After completing an investigation into all of the available evidence, Dr. Dominy has come to a conclusion as to why Rudolph’s red nose is a benefit for Santa and his eight tiny reindeer:

A press release on EurekAlert explains it all:

By citing research by other scientists on the unique eyes and vision of Arctic reindeer, Dominy explains why Rudolph is able to lead Santa and his team of eight tiny reindeer through the thick Arctic fog.

Dominy points out that Arctic reindeer (scientific name Rangifer tarandus tarandus) can see ultraviolet light, which is invisible to humans and most mammals–a trait that comes especially handy in mid-winter when the sun is low on the horizon and the high scattered light from the atmosphere is mainly blueish and ultraviolet. In addition, the reflective tissue (tapetum lucidum) in reindeer eyes changes from a rich golden color during the summer months to a deep blue color during the winter months. This tissue (which causes eye shine at night) helps nocturnal animals see in the dark, and a blue one is expected to improve their ability to see blue light. Yet, fog extinguishes blue light more readily than red light, which may make it especially difficult for Santa’s reindeer to see blue effectively, never mind fly.

This is where Rudolph’s luminescent (glowing) nose comes into play, as it serves as an excellent fog light for navigating his fellow reindeer. Given that the redness of Rudolph’s nose is similar to red holly berries, Dominy was able to estimate the color of light emitted from Rudolph’s nose by measuring the color of holly berries. He found that Rudolph’s nose is probably the maximum level of redness that mammals are able to see, which may explain why Rudolph’s nose is effective as a fog light.

According to Dominy, Rudolph’s nose also poses a problem. Reindeer noses are extremely vascular, which causes them to lose body heat through their noses. A glowing nose could cause excessive heat loss for Rudolph, putting him at risk of hypothermia. “It is therefore imperative for children to provide high-calorie foods to help Rudolph replenish his energetic reserves on Christmas Eve,” says Dominy. As a result of the unique properties of Rudolph, it is no wonder that with a nose so bright, he is able to effectively guide Santa’s sleigh.

So there you have it, the definitive explanation as to how Rudolph’s red nose cannot justify name calling or barring from the usual reindeer games.


Source: Eurekalert: “The scientific benefits of Rudolph’s red nose

Featured Photo Credit: Photo by Eli Burakian, class of 2000, Dartmouth College, depicting a paper mache of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, which once graced the Chicago lawn of his creator, Robert L. May, Dartmouth class of 1926.

Boston Dynamics’ Robot ‘Reindeer’ Really Are Kinda Creepy [Video]

In a somewhat Tim Burton-esque move, Boston Dynamics, a robotics company owned by Google, has released a slightly disturbing holiday video featuring their Spot robots, complete with reindeer antlers added, pulling a sleigh. Since the Spot robot is being designed for use in future warfare, the analogy to Futurama’s Robot Santa Claus has also been suggested by many.

We will let you determine for yourself is this is freaky or nice… without further adieu, here is Boston Dynamics’ “Happy Holidays” video:

It’s at least a little bit creepy, don’t you think? At least Mrs. Clause is not an evil robot, but the Spot robots with reindeer antlers and other holiday decorations really do make something like a “Nightmare Before Christmas” scene, don’t they?


Previously Unknown Process Formed Martian Gullies

A pair of French scientists have recently published a study in Nature Geoscience that radically revises the assumption that gullies on the Martian surface were formed by flowing water, as previously thought. Part of the water-based theory was based on the idea that the gullies had been formed in the distant past, but the evidence from the HiRISE camera aboard NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter indicated that gully formation was still happening today. The pair of researchers were intrigued by this situation and began to consider alternate theories.

A post on Science Daily reveals what the researchers have discovered, a fascinating new process for the formation of gullies:

To better understand the interaction between the CO2 frost and the surface materials, Cédric Pilorget, researcher1 at the Institut d’Astrophysique Spatiale (CNRS/Université Paris-Sud) and François Forget, CNRS scientist at the Laboratoire de météorologie dynamique2 (UPMC/ ENS Paris /CNRS/Ecole polytechnique) have developed a numerical model to simulate the environment on a slope. From the underlying regolith to the atmosphere above, the model takes into account the energy exchanges due to radiations, thermal conduction or induced by CO2 phases changes.

A key characteristic of the locations where CO2 ice condenses is that there is always a permafrost layer composed of water ice-cemented grains a few centimeters below the surface. Thus, when CO2 condenses on the surface in winter, the air present in the porous near-subsurface is trapped between the impermeable permafrost layer below and the CO2 ice layer above.

In such conditions, the numerical simulations carried out by Cedric Pilorget and François Forget have revealed a surprising behaviour. At the end of winter or in spring, the solar light penetrates into the translucent CO2 ice layer and heats it from below. The CO2 ice does not melt, but “sublimes” (it passes directly to the vapour state). This gas diffuses down through the near surface porous soil. A fraction can recondense there, while the rest of the gas accumulates in the porous volume. This can considerably increase the near-subsurface pressure, up to several times the atmospheric pressure value. The CO2 ice layer eventually ruptures, inducing a violent decompression. Within a few seconds and up to a few minutes, several cubic meters of gas (and possibly several tens of cubic meters around the vents) have then to flow up through the soil. Such fluxes are able to destabilize the soil grains to form granular flows. Moreover, they can also fluidize the avalanche which may behave like a viscous fluid.

Although this process has no exact analogue on Earth, it can be related to terrestrial pyroclastic flows, which are gas-particle mixtures generated during volcanic eruptions. Such flows can travel several kilometers even on very moderate slopes. They can transport meter-sized rocks, and have been found to exhibit side “levees” which are very similar in size to the ones observed on the side of Mars’s gullies. As on Earth, where debris flows triggered by rain or melting snow are rare events, it is likely that an uncommon combination of conditions are required to destabilize the slopes.

Because this process does not require liquid water in order for it to occur, and apparently has been happening for millennia, this dramatically reduces the possibility that these gullies may have provided habitable environments for living organisms.  More amazing details about this study can be found in the excellent article on the Science Daily website.


Source: ScienceDaily.com – “Gullies on Mars sculpted by dry ice rather than liquid water” 

Featured Image Source: courtesy of CNRS

One Question that Doctors Really Should Ask Patients

To better help their patients—and find more meaning in their work—physicians should turn toward suffering, according to a recent essay.

When patients suffer, doctors tend to want to fix things and, if they cannot, many doctors then withdraw emotionally.

Suffering doesn’t often fit neatly within the hurried, fragmented, world of clinical care, says University of Rochester professor Ronald M. Epstein, coauthor of the essay in the Journal of the American Medical Association with oncologist Anthony L. Back of the University of Washington.

Back and Epstein conducted a literature review on how doctors address suffering. Despite the ubiquity of suffering, they discovered few articles in the medical literature—most of which were published in journals rarely read by practicing clinicians.

“Physicians can have a pivotal role in addressing suffering if they can expand how they work with patients,” the article states. “Some people can do this instinctively but most physicians need training in how to respond to suffering—yet this kind of instruction is painfully lacking.”

The authors provide an example of how doctors can address suffering more effectively using a story of a patient who went years without a diagnosis, despite pain and disability. Surgery and medical treatments were not enough. Only after her physicians became truly curious about her experience, listening to her, looking at her, and bearing witness, could they help the patient heal.

Epstein and Back offer two clinical approaches to suffering to complement the familiar “diagnosing and treating.” They call these “turning toward” and “refocusing and reclaiming,” and the authors suggest that doctors use these approaches routinely.

Turning toward suffering means to, first, recognize it. It requires physicians to ask patients about their experience of suffering, through questions such as “what’s the worst part of this for you?” Sometimes doctors feel helpless in the face of suffering, and their own discomfort in those situations can be a useful wake-up call.

To refocus and reclaim involves helping patients reconnect with what’s important and meaningful in their lives, especially when suffering and its underlying causes cannot be eliminated. Sometimes that requires physicians to be supportive of a patient’s efforts to become more whole. In the case described, the patient separated from her spouse and re-established a professional identity. By making those changes she saw past her suffering and again viewed herself as a complete human being.

Asking physicians to engage as whole persons in order to address patients as whole persons “is a tall order,” Epstein and Back write, “yet, it strikes us as more feasible than ever because of evidence that programs promoting mindfulness, emotional intelligence, and self-regulation makes a difference.”


Republished from Futurity.org as a derivative work under the Attribution 4.0 International license. Original article published on Futurity by 

Research essay published in Journal of the American Medical Association

Featured Photo is Public Domain

GoCrow: Unprecedented Footage Recorded via ‘Crow Cams’ [Video]

A new study of  wild New Caledonian crows has used light-weight cameras mounted on their tails to capture live video of them creating hooked tools to extract insects from tree bark and leaf litter.  It’s the first time that their renowned tool-making behavior has been caught on camera.

New Scientist’s website published a very intriguing article that provides the details:

New Caledonian crows are the only non-human animals to make hooked tools in the wild. Why they do so is something of a mystery. “The answer to that lies most probably in the ecology of the place and the ecology of these birds,” says Christian Rutz at the University of St Andrews, UK.

Filming their natural behaviour may help us get to the bottom of it.

The film captures crows manufacturing tools in the wild, which they did from paperbark and a local plant, Acacia spirorbis. They first snapped a twig just above and below a branch, then stripped the bark and leaves from the longer, thinner branch and crafted the cut ends to make a hook.

Crows used the hooks to extract insect larvae, and on one occasion an adult insect, from wood. They were also spotted using hooked tools to forage in leaf litter, which hasn’t been seen before.

The cameras also captured plenty of foraging behaviour without tools, including one bird catching a frog and feeding portions of it to chicks.

The research team released this fascinating video from their research:

For additional details, see the excellent article on the New Scientist website.


Source: NewScientist.com – “Crow cameras give a bird’s eye view of tool-making in the wild

Featured Image Credit: Jolyon Troscianko

What’s the real risk from consumer drones this holiday season?

Andrew Maynard, Arizona State University

This holiday season, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is estimating that over one million small “Unmanned Aerial Systems” (sUAS’s) – drones, to the rest of us – will be sold to consumers. But as hordes of novice pilots take to the air, just how safe are these small bundles of metal, plastic, video cameras and whirling blades?

A few weeks ago, a British toddler lost an eye as an out-of-control drone sliced into his face. It may have been a freak occurrence, but it hammered home the message that sUASs – at least in some hands – can be accidents waiting to happen.

This hasn’t escaped the attention of the FAA. Earlier this year, the agency convened a task force in the US on overseeing UAS safe use with a legally enforceable registration system.

Let’s get this thing in the air!
Cola Richmond, CC BY-ND

Tracking who’s doing what with drones makes sense for commercial users. But there are fears it could put the brakes on a booming consumer drone market. So the task force set out to determine where a line could be drawn between safe (and therefore not regulated) drones and those that required more oversight.

In an impressive display of numerical dexterity, the task force – which included manufacturers and retailers like Parrot, Best Buy and Walmart – calculated the likelihood of a small consumer drone inadvertently killing someone.

Through their mathematical machinations, they concluded that a drone weighing 250 grams (just under nine ounces) is likely to kill fewer than one person per 20 million flight-hours.

Putting aside the many assumptions made to reach this figure, the risk sounds pretty low. That is, until you consider that a million new drone operators this holiday period each wouldn’t need to rack up that many flight hours before the chances of someone being killed got serious.

The FAA has just announced new drone registration guidelines based on the task force recommendations – and yes, if you own a drone weight less that 250 grams, you don’t need to register it. (If it’s between 0.55 pounds and 55 pounds, though, you’ll have to register online before taking to the air.)

The registration weight cutoff is based on the calculated chances of a fatal drone encounter. At least as worrying, though, are the nonfatal threats – the chances of physical injury from out-of-control or badly operated drones, or the much talked about Peeping Tom users who treat their sUAS as a second pair of prying eyes.

And then you have the dangers of drones getting where they were never meant to be – into the flight paths of aircraft, for instance. In under two years, 246 manned aircraft close encounters with quadropters were recorded by the Bard College Center for the Study of the Drone. And that’s before the surge in drone ownership we’re expecting to see over the next few weeks.

Drone operators likely aren’t too adept for their first flights.

Retailers and professional organizations – and to give them their fair dues, the FAA – have been quick to try to fill safety gaps around lightweight consumer drones. Best Buy, for example, has recently teamed up with the Academy of Model Aeronautics to provide new drone customers with a guide to responsible flying. And the FAA has a preflight checklist to encourage safe use.

These voluntary initiatives will certainly help reduce the chances of emergency care visits this holiday. But they work on the assumption that consumers actually want to be responsible in the first place.

As drone popularity increases, we’re going to have to get more creative if the risks to people and property are to remain acceptable. Despite the new registration requirements for larger drones, regulations are going to remain several steps behind the technology for some time, and “guides to responsible flying,“ while laudable, won’t do much to curb an excess of irresponsibility – or simple lack of awareness – in some pilots.

Instead, manufacturers, retailers, regulators and other organizations need to get better at finding innovative ways to create a culture of safe use. It isn’t enough to tell consumers to be responsible this holiday; safe flying needs to become the norm.

Of course, it’s possible to argue that the odd eye, or the occasional death, is a worthy price to pay for what the Academy of Model Aeronautics calls “The most fun you can have (without a license)” – so why be a party pooper with all this talk of risk and responsibility?

What did you see up there?
ArnoldReinhold, CC BY-SA

Unfortunately, the more drones are involved in accidents, the harder it will become for manufacturers to keep the market for their products buoyant. And the more likely it will be that regulators end up acting to limit the technology’s use.

This doesn’t bode well for the future of amateur drone operators. But there’s a more worrying potential consequence, and that’s to future socially beneficial uses of drones.

Commercial drones are getting increasingly close to providing services such as helping care for the elderly, or getting medical services and supplies to remote locations, or improving crop yields. Even Amazon’s much-touted drone delivery service is likely to be advantageous to some.

Yet if public perceptions and regulations end up being swayed by amateur users, applications like these are likely to hit a roadblock in their development.

And this is perhaps the most important safety issue this holiday season – not the small chance of injury, but the bigger risk of losing the best the technology can offer in the future. All because we were having the most fun we could without a license, without thinking about the consequences.

The Conversation

Andrew Maynard, Director, Risk Innovation Lab, Arizona State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Featured Image Credit:  PhOtOnQuAnTiQuE, CC BY-NC-ND