HeArt of Science Rebecca Richardson May Art of Science Winner Memetic Drift

Art of Science – HeART of Science

Science is amazing. Science is advancement. And sometimes, science is art. Each month this year Memetic Drift will feature a winning image from the University of Bristol’s Art of Science competition 2014.


Zebrafish have the amazing ability to heal their broken hearts, quite literally.

These little fish, which we met in February in a ghostly box, can endure quite serious damage to their hearts and yet make full recoveries.

While humans have pretty good healing powers, our bodies are not great at regenerating or removing scars. Scars are outward signs of our healing abilities, but come with their own problems. On the skin, for example, they can permanently reduce flexibility of the area, itch or ache for many years after forming, not to mention the cosmetic and emotional implications. Scarring inside the body, such as cardiac tissue after a heart attack or liver cirrhosis, can really impact on how well our organs function. If we could understand what tricks zebrafish use to make their heart good-as-new, perhaps we can adapt some for ourselves and make speedier, more complete recoveries.

This goal is what drives the research of Dr Beck Richardson from the School of Physiology and Pharmacology. She took this image of an entire adult zebrafish heart using confocal microscopy, a popular technique among cell scientists. Click for full size. 

HeArt of Science Rebecca Richardson May Art of Science Winner Memetic Drift

Of course, fish hearts aren’t actually quite so vibrant; the gorgeous colours instead come from fluorescent stains and antibodies which bind very specifically to certain molecules. Beck added these before taking the shot to make tracking and identification much easier.

The blue background comes from the nuclei of the heart cells. The red is collagen, a major component of scar tissue. The green comes from immune cells responding to injury where they have important roles in healing, protection from invading microbes and perhaps scar removal.

The fact it’s even possible to image a whole organ in so much detail is pretty incredible, I think. The resulting image happens to be absolutely beautiful – I guess you could say it really gets to the heart of what art and science’s interaction can bring.

Next month’s image is your new desktop background…


The annual Art of Science competition at the University of Bristol bridges the perceived divide between art and science, showing images which visually demonstrate that the pursuit of knowledge can be as beautiful as it is fascinating. 

This year there were three prize categories; Judges’ vote, People’s vote, and Schools’ vote. Each category had a 1st, 2nd and 3rd prize, and a runner-up. HeART of Science was runner-up in the People’s vote. Image used with permission. 

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Hidden Order by Felix Flicker, winner of the Art of Science 2014 University of Bristol competition

Art of Science – Hidden Order

Science is amazing. Science is advancement. And sometimes, science is art. Each month this year Memetic Drift will feature a winning image from the University of Bristol’s Art of Science competition 2014.


Order and chaos have been recurrent themes throughout the history of art and science. How do our minds respond to them? How are they connected? Are they really as opposed as they seem?

The work of many artists, such as Andy Goldsworthy and Sema Bekirovic, have explored the interplay and the balance between the two. Order in disorder. Chaos in harmony. It is, however, interesting to note that these artists are both offspring of scientists or mathematicians…

Our brains find symmetry and order inherently pleasing. One thing out of place in an otherwise perfect sequence draws way more attention to itself than it deserves, making you feel annoyed or even angry at the offending object. This holds true even if that object is a cute puppy in a line of other cute puppies. We are also naturally attracted to more symmetrical faces, though it’s something very few of us truly have.

However just because order is so appealing doesn’t mean chaos is necessarily ugly. Disorder gives our minds something to play with, to interpret as we like – a space for freedom. This image, by Felix Flicker from the University of Bristol’s School of Physics, is an autostereogram, sometimes known as a “Magic Eye” picture. What you’ll see when you first look is an apparently disordered array of pixels. Click to enlarge the image.

Hidden Order by Felix Flicker, winner of the Art of Science 2014 University of Bristol competition

Whereas last month’s “hidden” image jumps out at you unbidden, discovering the secret order here requires a little more work. I must admit it took me many viewing attempts to bring forth the 3D ripples emanating from the centre. Success came from using a printed copy of the image, a well lit room and slightly tired eyes that crossed with relative ease.

Felix discusses how our eyes and brain interpret the images before and after the “switch” occurs, and outlines the mathematical steps needed to create autostereograms on his website. Of course, mathematics itself can have a wonderful elegance. As philosopher Bertrand Russell said: “Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty.

Next month’s image really gets to the “heart” of Art and Science combined…


The annual Art of Science competition at the University of Bristol bridges the perceived gap between art and science, showing images which visually demonstrate that the pursuit of knowledge can be as beautiful as it is fascinating. 

This year there were three prize categories; Judges’ vote, People’s vote, and Schools’ vote. Each category had a 1st, 2nd and 3rd prize, and a runner-up. Hidden Order won 1st prize in the Schools’ vote. Image used with permission. 

Cold Fish Judith Mantell Art of Science Bristol Biochemistry

Art of Science – Cold Fish

Science is amazing. Science is advancement. And sometimes, science is art. Each month this year Memetic Drift will feature a winning image from the University of Bristol’s Art of Science competition 2014.


Unlike last month’s entry, this fish is not really a fish. It is a fish of the mind!

Most people are irresistibly vulnerable to the phenomenon of pareidolia. This is when you see a pattern, face or shape so strongly that it’s almost impossible to unsee, even when it doesn’t really exist.

Case in point: I dare you to look at the image below and tell me with a straight face that you don’t see a slightly derpy fish…Cold Fish by Judith Mantell an Art of Science 2014 winner at the University of Bristol.

Scientists aim to remain objective in their studies and work to understand life, the universe and everything. But scientists are also very much human, and just as prone to pareidolia which can make for great art!

The image was taken by Judith Mantell (BrisSynBio), using Transmission Eletcron Microscopy (TEM) on a sample provided by Laura Senior (Biochemistry). The blob which makes up the main body of the fish is a cross-section of an unusually shaped liposome – a sort of fatty bubble. Laura was studying how fantastic little creatures called diatoms can take up silicon and use it to make complex and beautiful shell-like structures. Using liposomes allows her to isolate the particular protein responsible and see how it behaves in different situations.

So much for the fish, but why is it cold? To see clearly inside the liposome, it had to be flash-frozen so fast that the surrounding water has no time to form ice crystals but instead freezes smooth as a pane of glass. This is what the “fish” is swimming, or rather immovably suspended in. The fish’s vacant stare comes courtesy of small contaminating ice crystals.

Incidentally, “cold fish” made me think of the incredible anti-freeze proteins many Arctic fish have, allowing them to stay alive despite being cold blooded in the extreme cold conditions of the North.

Next month’s image explores the boundaries and connections between order and chaos…


The annual Art of Science competition at the University of Bristol bridges the perceived gap between art and science, showing imageds which visually demonstrate that the pursuit of knowledge can be as beautiful as it is fascinating. 

This year there were three prize categories; Judge’s vote, People’s vote, and Schools’ vote. Each category had a 1st, 2nd and 3rd prize, and a runner-up. Cold Fish won 2nd prize in the Schools’ vote. Image used with permission. Thanks to Judith Mantell for additional help and information. 

Ghost Face, by Chrissy Hammond and Kate Robson Brown, winner of Art of Science December 2014

Art of Science – Ghost Face

Science is amazing. Science is advancement. And sometimes, science is art. Each month this year Memetic Drift will feature a winning image from the University of Bristol’s Art of Science competition 2014.


What looks like a creepy fish head in a box is actually part of important research working towards curing or preventing a nasty joint disease which makes putting the kettle on or getting out of bed excruciatingly painful. The image was compiled by Dr Chrissy Hammond (Schools of Biochemistry and Physiology & Pharmacology) and Professor Kate Robson Brown (School of Arts). 

This image shows the head of an adult zebrafish facing to the left. The denser the bone, the whiter it shows up – just like the medical X-rays you may have had. Behind the black holes left by the soft eyes you can see the brightness of three dense bones behind it. The fish uses these for balance among other things, similar to our own inner-ear bones. 

Ghost Face, by Chrissy Hammond and Kate Robson Brown

This image is actually a compilation of 400 X-rays stitched together by a computer, a technique called microCT. Together they form a 3D model you can pull around, drag and zoom as a virtual object. MicroCT is used not only in science but also in art and history, to look deeper into valuable artifacts without damaging the outside. 

This particular fish is normal and healthy but zebrafish can develop osteoarthritis, especially in the jaw area. Osteoarthritis is the result of smooth cartilage wearing away and replaced with bone tissue. This causes excruciating bone-on-bone rubbing from even the simplest movements, and there is no known cure beyond basic symptom management. 

By studying the progression of the disease in zebrafish, Chrissy’s lab hopes to learn more about how osteoarthritis develops. Her work has the eventual goal of discovering how to prevent or cure the disease which is painfully suffered by millions of people worldwide.

Next month, we continue the fish theme, but everything may not be as it seems…


The annual Art of Science competition at the University of Bristol bridges the perceived gap between art and science, showing imageds which visually demonstrate that the pursuit of knowledge can be as beautiful as it is fascinating. 

This year there were three prize categories; Judge’s vote, People’s vote, and Schools’ vote. Each category had a 1st, 2nd and 3rd prize, and a runner-up. Ghost Face won 3rd prize in the Schools’ vote. Image used with permission. 

Somewhere over the rainbow, by Stefan Lines of Bristol University, Art of Science winner

Art of Science – Somewhere Over The Rainbow

Science is amazing. Science is advancement. And sometimes, science is art. Each month this year Memetic Drift will feature a winning image from the University of Bristol’s Art of Science competition 2014.


Serendipity, those unlikely but happy accidents where everything works out better than expected, has played a pretty big role in the history of science. Penicillin, Viagra and even the Big Bang owe their timely discovery to occurrences which could easily have been overlooked. Of course, it takes minds both curious and well trained to make the leap from “huh, that’s weird” to “ah, that’s what’s going on… we can use this”.

Somewhere Over The Rainbow_StefanLines Jan

Somewhere Over the Rainbow by Stefan Lines and Philip Carter is an image which evokes this serendipity. They captured this chance alignment of a rainbow and a solar telescope, also showing the Bristol skyline peeping out from over the window.

Stefan and Philip work in the Planet Formation group, part of the school of Physics at UoB. Philip tests and challenges current theories of how our own planet formed, whereas Stefan looks a little further afield. He is interested in how planets orbiting binary stars (think Tattooine) might have come into being.

Hunting for exoplanets to study requires time, patience and a certain degree of luck. As planets they emit no light of their own, so one method is to watch stars over long periods of time and watch carefully for dips in their brightness, which just might indicate a planet has passed in front of them, temporarily blocking their light out a little bit . You can have a go finding some yourself at www.planethunters.org.

Next month, we have a rather ghostly looking fish…


The annual Art of Science competition at the University of Bristol bridges the perceived gap between art and science, showing imageds which visually demonstrate that the pursuit of knowledge can be as beautiful as it is fascinating. 

This year there were three prize categories; Judge’s vote, People’s vote, and Schools’ vote. Each category had a 1st, 2nd and 3rd prize, and a runner-up. Somewhere Over the Rainbow was runner-up for the Schools’ vote. Photo used with permission. 

2014 summary review digital

2014 – what happened and what did we learn?

How was 2014 for you? Here’s my annual round-up of exciting developments in various fields of science, set against some of the major stories in world news from each month. Click any of the links or the images to find out more!

 

January

January 2014 single molecule LED

Science 1: A new machine by Illumina, inc has developed a machine which accurately sequence a whole human genome for just $1000 each. The first genome took $3 billion! Cheap access to our individual genomes opens up huge possibilities for personally tailored medicine. (link)

Science 2: Researchers develop an LED made from just one molecule in a spectacular feat of miniaturisation. (link)

World News: Egyptians vote with a 98% majority (39% turnout) on a new constitution which gives more rights to women and disabled people, permits “absolute” freedom of religion and gives more power to the military which overthrew Islamist dictator Muhammad Morsi last year. (link)

 

February

February 2014 Shaun White at the Sochi Olympics

Science 1: Synthetic nanomotors have been placed inside living cells and steered around magnetically. With tighter control, nanomotors might be used for microsurgery or drug delivery. (link)

Science 2: A 4.4 billion year old fragment of zircon found in Western Australia has been confirmed as the oldest scrap of the Earth’s crust. A crystal this old implies that Earth’s crust solidified much earlier than previously thought. (link)

World News: Winter Olympic Games take place in Sochi, Russia, amidst initial fears over the safety of LGBT people and concerns over political tensions in neighbouring Ukraine, which broke out towards the end of the month. (link + link)

 

March

March 2014 woolly mammoth clone

Science 1: Biomedical engineers create a fully biodegradable battery that could be used for medical implants inside the body which monitor vital signs or dispense therapies. (link)

Science 2: A 43,000 year old frozen mammoth carcass has yielded enough high quality DNA to provide a “high chance” of successful cloning and therefore resurrection of the species… if a satisfactory scientific purpose for doing so is ever decided upon. (link)

World News: Flight MH370 utterly disappears somewhere during its scheduled flight from Kuala Lumpar to Beijing. Missing. Nine months later, no trace of the Boeing 777 aircraft or its 239 passengers and crew has been found. (link)

 

April

April 2014 artist's impression of the view from an exomoon

Science 1: Evidence for what might be the first moon orbiting an exoplanet has been found, highlighting the ever-increasing sensitivity of detection techniques which help us find planets many lightyears away. (link)

Science 2: Despite its obvious importance to our continued survival, the molecular workings of mammalian fertilisation are still pretty mysterious. This month a protein called Juno was reported. Juno is found on sperm surfaces and is vital for allowing the sperm to recognise and bind to eggs. (link)

World News:  Kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls from Chibok, Nigeria for forced conversion and use as cooks and sex slaves by militant Islamist group Boko Haram, whose name means “Western Education is Forbidden”. (link)

 

May

May 2014 massive titanosaur dinosaur

Science 1: The largest dinosaur every discovered was unearthed in Argentina. The currently unnamed species of titanosaur would have weighed as much as 14 African elephants. (link)

Science 2: Scientists in the Netherlands show it’s possible to instantaneously transfer data by quantum teleportation over 3 metres (10 ft) with a zero percent error rate. They are working on ever-larger distances. (link)

World News:  Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is found guilty of corruption and abuse of power, and is forced out of office after months of mass protest since November 2013. (link)

 

June

June 2014 Tesla roadster charging from a standard outlet

Science 1: The cause of the worrying global decline of bees becomes clearer as a huge examination of scientific studies draws a conclusion that pollution from neonicotidoid pesticides are at least partially responsible. (link)

Science 2: Electric car maker Tesla Motors opened up its patents “for the advancement of electric vehicle technology” in the hopes it will stimulate development in this alternative, potentially more environmentally-friendly mode of travel. (link)

World News: Japan’s parliament moves to ban possession of child pornography, which was previously legal. (link)

 

July

July 2014 60m diameter sinkhole discovered in Siberia

Science 1: A giant hole in the Earth was discovered in a remote part of Siberia. In November, scientists made the 35 metre descent to learn more about its origins. While some speculated meteorites might be responsible , they seem to have actually been formed by underground explosions of some sort. (link + link)

Science 2: Fabien Cousteau and two crew members completed “Mission 31”, where they spent 31 continuous days living underwater and collecting scientific data, a record length of time for a film crew . Given that we know more about the surface of distant planets than we do about what’s going on under the surface of our own, the information gained from missions like these are of huge scientific importance. (link)

World News: The second Malaisian Airline aircraft to make the headlines this year, flight MH17, was shot down over Ukrainian airspace. Investigation is still underway but pro-Russian separatists are thought to be responsible. All 283 passengers and 15 crew died. (link)

 

August

August 2014 self-organising kilobot swarm

Science 1:  Researchers from Harvard present kilobots, a 1000-strong robot swarm which give an impressive demonstration of an artificial hivemind. Communicating using relatively simple rules, the bots self-organise to form complex shapes and patterns. In the future they may be used as efficient search-and-rescue machines or to model real animal swarms. (link)

Science 2: Emotions have always been tricky for computers, as recognising them follows complex and often unintuitive sets of rules. By developing new ways of “teaching” emotions to computers, a program has been developed which recognises a typed emotional state correctly up to 87% of the time. (link)

World News:  Shooting of an unarmed black civilian Mike Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Being one of many similar cases in recent years for the USA, it sparked discussion and protest about racial tensions and police brutality in Ferguson and the USA overall. The policeman responsible was let off without a trial. (link)

 

September

September 2014 Dendrogramma enigmata new category of life

Science 1: India sends an orbiter to Mars, making it the first country to achieve this feat on the first attempt. (link)

Science 2: An entirely new type of life was found in the ocean off Australia. While casually resembling mushrooms, Dendrogramma enigmata and discoida have been placed in the animal kingdom but couldn’t be categorised any further than that. (link)

World News: Scotland votes “No” to Scottish independence, with a record high turnout of 84.5%. (link)

 

October

October 2014, the first baby to be born to a women with a transplanted womb

Science 1: The first baby to come from a mother with a transplanted womb was born in Sweden this month. The baby boy was born premature but healthy and is still doing well. (link)

Science 2:  The invention of the elusive blue LED, understanding how we learn where we are and developments of the new field of nanoscopy were celebrated this month in the award of the 2014 Nobel Prizes in Physics, Physiology / Medicine and Chemistry. (link)

World News: Ebola, which had already claimed more than 2000 lives across West Africa, spreads beyond the region with the infection of a Spanish nurse. She recovered, but concerns grow. (link)

 

November

November 2014 Philae lander on the surface of comet 67/P, the first ever comet landing mission

Science 1:  Philae leaves its mother spacecraft Rosetta and makes the first ever landing on a comet. Philae ended up  at the base of a cliff after bouncing hundreds of metres into the air after initial touchdown. It performed some fascinating new science before being put into possibly permanent hibernation. Rosetta is still going strong. (link)

Science 2: Mutated Ras proteins are found in over a third of all cancer cases, and can cause particular problems when they move from inside the cell to the membrane. A new drug and treatment strategy to stop this happening was announced this month. (link)

World News: Indian state-run sterilisation clinics result in death of 13 women, caused by squalid conditions and negligence from lack of proper resources. (link)

 

December

December 2014 3D haptic shape that can be felt in midair

Science 1: Haptic technology, which includes virtual objects you can touch and feel, and most likely going to be big news in the next few years. Using ultrasound to create visible air disturbances, researchers at Bristol University have created floating shapes which you can interact with in mid-air. (link)

Science 2: The first functional enzyme was created using XNA, a synthetic alternative to DNA and RNA. This massively changes the way we think about life, showing that DNA is far from the only possible blueprint to existence. (link)

World News:  A report on the CIA’s treatment of suspected terrorists reveals “brutal and ineffective” torture which the CIA repeatedly covered up with lies. Waterboarding, extended sleep deprivation and rectal feeding were among the procedures used. (link)


Honestly, that last entry was a tough one to end on. The world in 2014 has not been trouble-free, and not all developments have been positive. As exciting and empowering as all these scientific developments can be, humanity is still learning lessons (or not) about how to get along. Anyway, now 2014 is all but wrapped up, here’s to a happy and science-filled 2015!

Blonde Crested Woodpecker Scientific name: Celeus flavescens --- Poké-name suggestion: Mopeck

Animals that could (and should!) be Pokémon – Part… 7??

It’s been way too long since I’ve done a Pokémon post! I’m hoping for Omega Ruby or Alpha Sapphire for Christmas so to keep me from getting over-excited I’ve reminded myself of the awesome diversity of species out there in the real wild, and how some of them really should be Pokémon by now!

 

Eastern emerald elysia Scientific name: Elysia chlorotica --- Poké-name suggestion: SlogsolEastern emerald elysia
Scientific name: Elysia chlorotica — Poké-name suggestion: Slogsol

This sea-slug had a problem, and the problem was this: it wants to eat algae for the full year in which it lives, but its favourite food algae aren’t found in the winter so it’s in danger of going hungry for those months. There are many possible evolutionary solutions to this issue, but the eastern emerald elysia was having none of it and came up with its own solution.

For the first week after hatching, this sea-slug is small, brown and eats algae. Algae contain organelles called chloroplasts which are responsible for the photosynthesis which allows them to get their energy from the sun (rather than the bodies of other organisms). When we eat plants, the chloroplasts in them get chewed up and destroyed like the rest of it, but not so in this slug.

There’s no doubt about the typing of this one – it’s the perfect Water/Grass combo. It only needs to eat for the first two weeks of its life, filling up on its favourite species of algae.

Refs: here, here, here

 

Tiger Quoll Scientific name: Dasyurus --- Poké-name suggestion: KwollTiger Quoll
Scientific name: Dasyurus — Poké-name suggestion: Kwoll

I don’t know if they’re amenable to this sort of thing, but I’d really like to cuddle a quoll. They look like an adorable cross between a cat, a ferret, a possum and a baby deer. I’m not sure who saw the spots on this particular species and thought “tiger”, but it’s also called the “spotted-tailed quoll” which makes rather more sense.

Quolls are marsupials found only in Australia, New Guinea and New Zealand. They feed on lizards, insects and small mammals. Despite being largely solitary, they have the strange habit of sharing communal areas to use as toilets which presumably serve as ways of gaining information about your neighbours from the smell.

Quoll numbers, particularly in Australia, have been declining. Besides the “usual suspects” of habitat destruction and predation, they have suffered hugely from the cane toad, which was introduced in the 1930s as a natural pest-control but has since bred out of control and ended up outcompeting or poisoning most local wildlife – certainly not a conservation success story for the annals of history.

I think the quoll would make an adorable normal typing, perhaps as one of the obligatory early-game furry friends.

Refs: here, here

 

Bichir
Scientific name: Polypteridae — Poké-name suggestion: Bichin

Bichir Scientific name: Polypteridae --- Poké-name suggestion: BichinMost fish have one dorsal fin on their backs, but that’s not good enough for bichir. They have at least 7-18 and each has a bony ridge up the front which makes for a very interesting looking skeleton. Oh, and they still have primitive lungs as a throwback from its ancient evolutionary ancestors, and must come up for air regularly. Their lungs are much simpler than our own but helps them survive in poorly oxygenated waters of the Nile and other African rivers, swamps and estuaries.

I think the bichir would make a good pre-evolution for Relicanth, based on the “living fossil” coelacanth thought to have been extinct for 66 million years until one was found off the coast of South Africa in 1938. Bichir are far smaller than the man-sized coelacanth and in reality are very distantly related, but Pokémon could probably look past that inconvenience and group them together as fish which both show primitive features and indeed remain relatively unchanged over millions of years.

Refs: here, here

 

Blonde Crested Woodpecker Scientific name: Celeus flavescens --- Poké-name suggestion: MopeckBlond-Crested Woodpecker
Scientific name: Celeus flavescens — Poké-name suggestion: Mopeck

I still can’t quite believe there isn’t a woodpecker Pokémon by now. They’re such animated little birds and many of them are so attractive. This little guy (you can tell from the red cheek-streak) is one of the cutest in my opinion. They are native to Brazil and a few other surrounding countries, feeding off ants and termites amongst the rainforest trees.

The poké-name I’ve given Mopeck references its rather impressive upright Mohawk-style crest. I would love it to be an Electric/Flying type, a woefully under-represented dual typing (although Zapdos admittedly covers it well and remains one of my favourite Pokémon).

Refs: here, here


More Animals that Should be Pokémon posts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Fairy edition, transport edition, fossil edition.

As ever, if you come across any animals (or any species) which really look like they could be Pokémon, get in touch! Also if you have ORAS I’d love to hear what you think of it!