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    Awesome Jobs: Meet Linda Gormezano, Polar Bear Poop Tracker

    Understanding the changing dietary habits of polar bears is the key to seeing how climate change and shrinking polar ice is affecting their lifestyles. And the best way to know what’s happening with their diet? Look at their poop, of course! Linda Gormezano, an ecologist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, has trained her dog Quinoa to help her find the best samples left by bears as they cross the frozen Canadian tundra. Gormezano chatted with us about why poop is such a useful scientific specimen and what it’s like to spend months living in a camp in the heart of polar bear country.

    A grouping of adult male polar bears along the coast of western Hudson Bay in summer (photo credit: Robert F. Rockwell)

    What’s ecology and how does it apply to polar bear research?

    Ecology is the interaction between animals and the environment. What we’re studying is how polar bears behave on land with respect to available food -- what they eat and where they eat it. What I’m particularly interested in is how they hunt other animals and how the calories they gain from consuming them are going to affect their annual energy budget as their access to ice becomes more limited.

    We collect scat and hair samples non-invasively. After consuming food on the ice or on land some bears leave scat. Also some bears rest right along the coast, bedding down in sand and grass where they leave hairs behind, while others head further inland and leave hair in dens.

    Linda Gormezano and her dog, Quinoa. (photo credit: AMNH)

    What, exactly, is an energy budget?

    Nobody really knows how often polar bears in western Hudson Bay capture seals, but they get a certain amount of energy from consuming seals they hunt out on the ice and that energy allows them to survive on land for 4-5 months each year. If the ice melting earlier each year causes polar bears to have less time to hunt seal pups in spring, they may be taking in fewer calories over the course of the year.

    What we want to know is, now that they’re eating more of certain types of foods on land, what kind of energetic benefits might polar bears be experiencing? Up until now many have thought what they were eating on land wasn’t really helping them at all. To evaluate this, we are examining the energetic costs and benefits of capturing and consuming those foods as well as how often the behavior occurs. Only then can we determine whether these foods could help alleviate nutritional deficits that polar bears may come ashore with.

    In Brief: ISS to Test NASA's Hydroponics Pod

    SpaceX's third contracted cargo run was supposed to launch on Monday--a Dragon capsule ferrying 2.5 tons of supplies to the International Space Station. But a helium leak in the first stage of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket has delayed that launch until the end of this week. Among the tools, equipment, and food supplies being sent to the ISS are a new batch of experiments to join the over 100 already being conducted at any time on board the station. One notable new experiment is Veggie, NASA's prototype of an expandable plant chamber to grow lettuce seedlings in space. These plants will be grown on "pillows" in the device, which expands to 12x15-inches, the largest plant growth chamber yet sent to space. Astronauts will test the culinary and health potential of the space lettuce, and NASA also expects the experiment to have psychological benefits. Space gardening could be a legitimate pastime for astronauts.

    Awesome Jobs: Meet Ruddy Mell, Fire Starter (for Science)

    If you want to understand how fire works, then you have to burn stuff. That’s where Ruddy Mell comes in. He’s a research combustion engineer and physicist at the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Wildland Fire Sciences Lab. Mell’s job is to work with teams of fire experts to create controlled burns, collect all the data they can, and then build physics-based models that can predict what could happen when seriously dangerous fires burn out of control. Mell talked with us about why our current wildfire models are so insufficient and how they go about trying to control the world’s most unpredictable element out in the field.

    Why do we need to study wildfires?

    At least three reasons. Two of them are kind of combined. They have to do with fires in the wildland and urban interface, where wildland vegetation is adjacent to where people live and fire causes damage to homes and roads and power lines and cell towers -- anything that people have built that causes enough damage that the consequences need to be addressed.

    The other problem is smoke. That’s a significant problem. Even if it doesn’t burn buildings the smoke is a problem if people are downwind. The health effect has been shown to cause increased hospital visits for respiratory problems. In some parts of the country, the southeast in particular where there are a lot of old people that are retired, it can be a big problem.

    Also in the southeast US the vegetation tends to grow back very quickly, so they have to deal with this smoke issue because the vegetation is there to burn. One of the ways they deal with fires there is to do fuel treatments, where fuel is vegetation. They’ll burn it periodically just to keep it down so it will be easier to contain if there’s a wildfire. They’re limited in doing prescribed fires because of all the people around. They want to do this to keep it safe, but it’s hard to do.

    So the wildland fire problem is a fire problem, a vegetation problem, and smoke problem. To address the problem you have to think about all that. When modelling comes in, you need models for fire and better models for smoke.

    The purpose of these research burns is to provide data sets for model testing and validation and development. The best example of a model that’s used by people everyday are weather models. Imagine the world if we couldn’t look up the forecast. You can’t use experiments alone to help with weather predictions. Suppose you go out and measure temperature and wind at some site, there’s no guarantee it will be like that a year from now. You need models to help predict out into the future.

    Photographing All of the World's Coral Reefs

    How do you understand global change of a system that’s underwater and impossible to photograph from above? Build a giant submersible camera system controlled by expert dive photographers, of course.

    The world’s reef systems are deteriorating. Corals are going away at a rate of about 1 - 2 percent every year. Some areas are harder hit than others. In the last 27 years, the Great Barrier Reef has lost 53 percent of its corals and the Caribbean has lost 80 percent. That’s a big deal because reef systems are basically cities for fish. One quarter of all the ocean’s life makes their home there. If the ocean’s corals disappear then much of the life in the ocean disappears too. For humans, that means we can no longer depend on reef systems for food, protection from weather, tourism, and medicine.

    So, we know reefs are important. And we know they’re deteriorating. What we don’t have is a visual understanding of how these reef systems are changing and any capability to compare changes to themselves or each other over time. To change that, professional underwater photographers have gotten together with ocean scientists to create the Global Reef Record -- a world-wide Google Maps-like photographic index of all of the coral systems in the entire world.

    “We’re creating a global baseline,” says Richard Vevers, executive director of the survey. “We’ve been travelling around the world using a standard protocol for collection imagery, which allows us to do a global comparison.”

    In order to accurately capture every reef on earth with consistency and 360-degree panoramic views, Vevers, who has a background in professional underwater photography, had to engineer and build a special camera. “Initially it came from an understanding of underwater photography, which is very different. We looked at taking the Google Streetview camera underwater, but we needed much wider angle lenses and we needed to be able to take shots in low visibility and low light. We also needed change exposure as we were moving without having to access the camera.”

    The solution was to build the camera completely from scratch and then mount it on an underwater scooter. The entire $50,000 system is manipulated by a waterproofed tablet, with specially designed apps, that can be controlled by divers who move a magnetic mouse that operates a button inside the tablet’s glass box.

    The Magnified World, Up Close

    The human eye is an incredible biological machine, but it has its limits. One of them is scale. There’s a whole world of beauty and surprises lurking underneath our eyes, and all we have to do is blow it up a little. In this feature, we’ll share amazing looks at ten common and not so common substances magnified hundreds of times.

    Awesome Jobs: Meet Kayla Iacovino, Trekker Volcanologist

    North Korea has a volcano. About a millennium ago it had one of the largest eruptions in Earth’s history. You probably didn’t know. And that’s OK. Because North Korea is so closed off to outsiders, most people (even some scientists) had no idea. But science is really good at overcoming political roadblocks and recently a team of researchers made their way into the country to get a closer look at their active volcanic peak. Kayla Iacovino, a volcanologist and experimental petrologist on the team, chatted with us about how North Korean scientists differ from their Western counterparts and it was like to be the only American--and the only woman--trekking through the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

    First of all, what the heck is an experimental petrologist?

    A petrologist is a type of geologist that looks at the origins of rocks. Petra means rock. I specifically study the origins of volcanic rocks. I take rocks that I find in the field and I recreate the conditions in which they were formed. So essentially I make mini-magma chambers in the lab.

    How do you do that?

    I take rocks that I find in the field and I recreate the conditions in which they were formed. So essentially I make mini-magma chambers in the lab.

    So, we have these big machines that essentially take a rock and put it under very high pressure and high temperature, which simulates the conditions in a magma chamber. Bubbles form and crystals grow. By looking at the chemistry we can understand the processes that happen in magma chambers to cause eruptions. It’s a field of research most people don’t know exist.

    In order to say something about the real volcanic system, a specific one, we have to be able to have some kind of basic understanding of the volcano before starting the experiments. We have to go to the field and look at the rocks. The techniques are similar to structural geology. We look at the geometry of the rocks and how they’re related spatially and we can make hypotheses about the chemistry and then we can test them in the lab.

    What exactly do you learn from reverse engineering the lava?

    That part comes when we’re analyzing the rocks. We see what crystals are there and its chemical composition. We can make a hypothesis about the conditions under which it formed. And then we test the hypothesis by putting it under those conditions to see if what comes out looks like the rock we started with.

    We can say: These are the conditions that it must have been under when it was in the volcano.

    How Plate Tectonics Affects Google Maps

    We all know that the Earth is moving around the Sun within our solar system. We all know that the Earth is rotating as it completes its orbit. And we even know that the Earth's surface isn't completely stationary. Plates gradually shift and drift apart and together. Earthquakes can move tectonic plates by several feet. But we rarely ever think of how these types of motion actually affect us. And they definitely do, as Scientific American discovered when asking this question: "What happens to Google Maps when tectonic plates move?"

    Turns out Google Maps, Google Earth, and other GPS and mapping systems are in a constant state of inaccuracy. They can only be so accurate, anyway--GPS systems can often only pinpoint your location down to a few yards, and Google Maps uses cell tower triangulation to hone in on that initial range radius represented by a blue circle. So they're not perfectly accurate to begin with, and on top of that, the map data they're based on is imperfect, too.

    Image credit: George Musser/Scientific American

    "For the most part, misalignments don’t represent real geologic changes, but occur because it’s tricky to plop an aerial or orbital image onto the latitude and longitude grid," Scientific American explains. "The image has to be aligned with reference points established on the ground." But those reference points aren't always perfect, either. NGS, the National Geodetic Survey, has left markers scattered around the country as GPS reference points, but they weren't always placed accurately, and they don't have to budget to check all of them.

    And then things get really complicated, because there's not just one end-all, be-all latitude and longitude grid to go off of.

    Awesome Jobs: Meet Doug Daly, Tree-Climbing Botanist

    If you want to find new species of plant life in the world, you have to get out and look for it. That means trekking slowly through jungles and forests--and spending a lot of time staring through binoculars at leaves, fruits, and flowers. New York Botanical Garden curator of Amazonian botany, Doug Daly, specializes in plants of the Amazon region. Specifically he spends a lot of time in Brazil and, most recently, Colombia. He chatted with us about what it’s like to identify new plant species in regions of the world that aren’t always so friendly to humans.

    Photo courtesy Doug Daly.

    Why do you study forests?

    Most people wouldn’t understand the thrill you get from being a taxonomist. I can’t separate it from the motive for becoming one. There’s a mindset for people who do systematics. As one of my old professors once said: “There are two kinds of people. Those who ask: ‘How does it work?’ And those who ask: ‘What is it?’”

    "Figuring out what things are is a complicated process. We don’t separate that from how things are related to each other."

    Figuring out what things are is a complicated process. We don’t separate that from how things are related to each other. The reason I go to places I go, to the tropics, is that’s where the species are. You’re looking for quantity and amazing mega-diversity, so traveling to those areas is kind of decided for you.

    What I’m doing right now is working on two big projects in the Brazilian Amazon that involve forest management. There’s been progress made in sustainable logging and there’s also a national forest inventory going on in Brazil. Although loggers might follow the correct procedures in practice, between 50 and 70 percent of the species are misidentified. So people have no clue about what we’re actually cutting down.

    There are practices where you can minimize the impacts on the forest, but if you don’t know what the trees are you’re kind of hamstrung.

    Celebrating Unusual Maps: The Winning Dymaxion Redux and Cahill's Butterfly

    Earlier this year we wrote about the revival of Buckminster Fuller's Dymaxion map, which has long been a favorite of triangle-loving cartographers. The Buckminster Fuller Institute held a contest for map lovers to submit a Dymax Redux design, reinterpreting the classic shape of the Dymaxion with a new visual appearance. The Dymaxion unfolds the globe into a series of triangles, designed to preserve the size and shape of the Earth's landmasses. The winner of the contest was the Dymaxion Woodocean World, a gorgeous woodcut Fuller map.

    The Dymaxion competition has also revived a bit of a cartographer competition, as Wired describes in Projection Smackdown: Cahill's Butterfly vs. the Dymaxion Map. The Dymaxion map is presented as a more accurate competitor to the popular Mercator projection, which distorts the sizes of continents. But the lesser-known Cahill Butterfly may be more accurate still.

    Cahill "proposed skinning the globe into eight triangular lobes, a method invented by Leonardo Da Vinci," Wired writes. "Rather than arrange them into a clover, as Da Vinci did, Cahill made a butterfly shape. He was interested in balance, and obsessed with his projection’s aesthetic. And his math was not too shabby either. The lobes – also called gores – are each exactly 90 degrees wide and run 10,000 km along the edge. There is practically no distortion along the edges of each lobe. The lines of latitude and longitude shrink towards the middle of each lobe. The overall effect is a map that can be scaled to any size, and errors that are easy to calculate and correct."

    Image via geographer-at-large.blogspot.com.

    Fuller's Dymaxion map presents the world from an uncommon vantage point. There's no "right" way to look at the map, nothing that suggests North America should be "above" South America, and so on. Wired points out one problem that the Dymaxion map has that Cahill's butterfly avoids, however.

    "Take a look at the United States on the Fuller map," Wired writes. "See the diagonal line that bisects the country? Notice the graticules? They run away from the seam at different angles, a pattern that repeats itself across the entire map. Every facet of the Dymaxion map has a different pattern of longitude and latitude. There isn’t a single large landmass on the planet that’s free from bent meridians and broken parallels."

    Neither map is exactly great for navigation, but the butterfly map at least preserves longitude and latitude. The Dymaxion Redux competition helped a new audience appreciate Fuller's map; maybe someday, someone will do the same for Cahill's butterfly.

    Scientific Mysteries We’re No Closer To Solving

    It seems like just about every day we read about a new breakthrough that shakes the world of science to the core. But, that said, there are some things that we’re still totally stumped on. Today, we’ll spotlight ten scientific mysteries that people have been working on for generations and we’re no closer to answering. It's stuff like this that keeps us curious about the world.

    Flowing Lava is Mesmerizing and Terrifying

    Volcano enthusiast Bryan Lowry made a series of hikes up Hawaii's Kilauea Volcano in the first half of this year to document the flow of lava over the Pu’u O’o vent that has been continuously erupting for 30 years. He shot dozens of short videos with his Nikon D800 and a GoPro camera, showing the lava cover the trails and trees that he would never be able to visit again in future hikes. The footage is mesmerizing, and more startling is the audio of the lava up close. (It reminds me of this Perry Bible Fellowship comic.) He's disabled embedding of most of his videos (except this one shot with a GoPro), but you can watch all of Lowry's videos on his Vimeo page, including this recent one of flowing lava engulfing a can of Chef Boyardee ravioli.

    New Theory Suggests Life on Earth Began with Meteors

    I like to imagine life on Earth began as it's depicted in Star Trek: The Next Generation--compounds in a puddle of goo colliding to form the first proteins, as Patrick Stewart stands around looking vaguely confused. A new theory about the beginnings of life on Earth, as reported by Phys.org, is actually pretty similar--minus Patrick Stewart.

    ""When the Earth formed some 4.5 billion years ago, it was a sterile planet inhospitable to living organisms," says paleontologist Sankar Chatterjee. "It was a seething cauldron of erupting volcanoes, raining meteors and hot, noxious gasses. One billion years later, it was a placid, watery planet teeming with microbial life – the ancestors to all living things."

    Chatterjee thinks he's figured out the sequence of events that took Earth from sterile dead zone to oceanic paradise. Meteorites were the key. Chatterjee divides the history of life's beginnings into four stages: cosmic, geological, chemical and biological. In the cosmic stage, 3.8 - 4.1 billion years ago, meteorites pounded the Earth--we can still see the damage they inflicted in craters on the moon and other planets. When giant meteorites cracked through the planet's crust, they loosed geothermal vents. They also left behind the building blocks of life, and in Greenland, Australia, and South Africa, environmental conditions were perfect for life to form.

    Image credit: CBS Home Video

    "Because of Earth's perfect proximity to the sun, the comets that crashed here melted into water and filled these basins with water and more ingredients," writes Phys.org. "This gave rise to the geological stage. As these basins filled, geothermal venting heated the water and created convection, causing the water to move constantly and create a thick primordial soup."

    At this point, the scene was very much like it was depicted in The Next Generation's finale. Convective currents from geothermal vents incubated organic molecules. The first RNA and proteins formed in the craters left behind by meteor strikes. This was the chemical stage. Chatterjee also believes that an older hypothesis about the primordial soup, from professor David Deamer, was correct--fatty lipid materials brought with the meteor strike at some point encapsulated the RNA and proteins, binding them together.

    After that, it still took millions of years for cells to begin to form and replicate. And that, says Chatterjee, is life. Pretty simple stuff, huh?

    Why We Think of the Rainbow as Seven Colors

    If you've been using the acronym ROY G. BIV to remember the colors of the rainbow for your entire life, you've been living a lie. Indigo and orange? They're both afterthoughts. Back when Isaac Newton first divided up and labeled the color spectrum using prisms, he settled on five main colors: red, yellow, green, blue, and violet. Later, he added in orange and indigo. Why? Because of music.

    "Technically speaking, there aren’t seven distinct colors in the rainbow," design critic Jude Stewart recently told The Atlantic. "But Isaac Newton felt pressured to name seven colors to match the seven tones in Descartes’s musical scale–so he shoe-horned indigo in." Stewart wrote the book Roy G. Biv: An Exceedingly Surprising Book About Color to talk about the use of color and symbolism.

    Photo credit: Flickr user rwangsa via Creative Commons.

    In addition to dismantling our common understanding of the rainbow, Stewart wrote about the use of color in different cultures. Most of the book follows the color of the rainbow, but she added in white, pink and brown, colors with plenty of their own stories. The book ties colors to some singificant cultural touchstones, asserting orange is violent (one piece of evidence: A Clockwork Orange) and brown is the color of death (evidence: feces, falling leaves).

    She also answered a question some people may find important: How many shades of gray are there, in fact? The book has a chapter on gray titled a million shades of gray, but it doesn't provide an exact answer. But the number is, at the very least, 150--that's how many shades of gray paint Benjamin Moore sells.

    When Asteroids Head Toward Earth, We'll Probably Nuke Them

    "Hypervelocity nuclear interceptor system"--real technology, or James Bond movie plot device? The concept for the hypervelocity nuclear interceptor system is real--more real than Star Wars, Reagan's proposed 1980s defense platform--but it's not about protecting us from the Russians, or other countries that possess nuclear weapons. It's about protecting the planet Earth from asteroids by using nuclear weapons. Yes, just like in Armageddon.

    In reality, of course, deep-sea miners won't be touching down on an asteroid to bury a nuclear warhead in its core. That would be ridiculous. Instead, we'll simply launch nuclear warheads at asteroids from here on Earth, relying on massive detonations to blow dangerous space rocks into smaller, less dangerous space rocks, or divert their trajectory out of Earth's orbit. Crazy as nuking asteroids sounds, it's actually the most popular option for dealing with potentially dangerous asteroids, and millions of dollars goes into nuclear asteroid interception every year.

    Image credit: NASA/JPL

    The Atlantic published a lengthy article on Wednesday from non-profit The Center For Public Integrity, and it's all about our plans to take out asteroids using nuclear weapons. Nuking asteroids isn't just a US initiative--in fact, as far back as 1995, Russian scientists have been eager to collaborate on the idea. Despite the Obama administration's push towards nuclear disarmament, the administration's energy secretary signed an agreement with Russia last month to support collaboration on nuclear asteroid defense.

    In 1995, Edward Teller, known as the father of the hydrogen bomb, called for nuclear weapons to be placed in orbit of Earth to protect us from asteroids. That proposal hasn't gained much ground, but of the research that The Atlantic cites, nukes launched from the ground are still, by far, the most supported tool for asteroid defense.

    Image credit: NASA/MSFC

    The Atlantic writes "Bong Wie, the director of Iowa State University’s Asteroid Deflection Research Center, has a three-year, $600,000 grant from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to design a 'hypervelocity nuclear interceptor system,' basically an missile-borne, nuclear explosive fitted with a battering ram. The ram would separate from the bomb before impact, gouging a crater in the asteroid so the bomb could then blast it apart.

    Wie’s plan is hardly Teller’s grand vision of a space-based nuclear asteroid shield. He proposes using off-the-shelf land-based missiles and explosive warheads currently in the U.S. stockpile to intercept large, city-shattering asteroids that are less than about 10 years from slamming into the Earth, when time is too short to nudge them into a new orbit."

    But that's just one approach.

    This Single Portrait Would Explain Humanity to Aliens

    In 1977, NASA launched Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 into the vastness of space. Each carry with them a golden record containing images and sounds meant to depict Earth; if an alien civilization ever discovers either Voyager probe, they could lead back to Earth, or at least provide a small snippet of our civilization. Almost 20 years later, NASA considered sending a similar archive along with its Cassini probe which is now in orbit around Saturn. Cassini's archive would be A Portrait of Humanity, a stereo pair of images meant to depict, in a single 3D snapshot, the breadth of human life.

    Image credit: NASA/ESA

    The Portrait was meant to travel to Saturn's moon Titan on NASA's lander. NASA's mission went ahead as planned--Cassini was launched in 1997, and the Huygens craft successfully landed on Titan in 2005. But the images were never completed or launched with the mission. Jon Lomberg, who designed the Voyager Record for NASA, was also behind the Portrait of Humanity. He wrote an interesting history of the project that highlights its purpose and, most importantly, how it different from the records sent with Voyager and the CD-ROM Visions of Mars.

    "Unlike the Voyager Record it was not intended to leave the solar system to be found by the crew of an advanced starship," writes Lomberg. "Unlike Visions it was not for humans in the next few centuries. Its fate would have been to remain on the surface of Saturn's moon Titan, waiting for eons of time against the slim chance that life might someday appear on that strange world, or that some other space traveler might visit Titan and find it. The image, inscribed on a diamond wafer about the size of a coin, was intended to show an intelligent alien on Titan viewer a little about our bodies, about our relationships with each other, and about our planet."

    Photo credit: Simon M. Bell/NASA

    The most complete part of the project was a photograph taken in Hawaii, which took nearly two years to envision and compose. Lomberg's writing about the photo reveals how much thought went into its composition. It represents the breadth of human ages and races, shows our bodies in various poses, and shows off Earth's oceans and blue skies in the background. Even the way people sit and stand in the photograph shows how our bodies work.

    But what's really fascinating is the audience Lomberg wanted, hoped, to deliver this message to.

    Beyond Meat's Not-Chicken Strips May Revolutionize Meat Substitutes

    "Human beings eat 183 billion pounds of chicken every year, and just about nobody thinks that the way we grow and process these living creatures is sustainable," writes chef and Food Network host Alton Brown. "In 1997, humanity consumed 235 million tons of meat, and we’re on track for 400 million tons in 2030."

    That's a lot of meat. And a lot of chickens crammed into gigantic farms, cows producing massive clouds of methane. As Brown writes, this farming and production isn't environmentally sustainable in the long term. Currently, most meat eaters aren't willing to give up chicken breasts and steaks for synthetic meats and vegetable substitutes. But in his feature for Wired magazine, Brown writes about how that may change thanks to a company called Beyond Meat.

    Photo credit: Beyond Meat

    Beyond Meat is producing a processed chicken substitute, but the end result isn't a sludge of chemicals pushed out of a nozzle like Play-Doh. It's something different, which aims to reproduce the texture of chicken in addition to its flavor.

    "The extruder...uses steam, pressure, and cold water to knead and knit the proteins and plant fibers in the Beyond Meat mixture into a specific physical arrangement...This is what separates Beyond Meat’s chicken analog from Tofurky."

    Alton Brown knows what chicken tastes like, but his initial reaction to Beyond Meat's product hints that the company may be close to something chicken eaters across the world would consider a viable substitute. "Fresh out of the extruder, a strip of Beyond Meat not-chicken is warm but not hot, striated like meat, and to the touch feels animal in origin," he writes. "My mind races to place the musculature … to identify the anatomical source. The closest thing I can come up with is cooked chicken breast, which I suppose is the whole point. I tear it and watch the break, the way the material separates. It’s more like meat than anything I’ve ever seen that wasn’t meat. Looking closely I can see a repeating pattern, like a subtle honeycomb, that reminds me a bit of tripe. I close my eyes and smell, but since the strip hasn’t received any flavoring at this point, I detect only subtle hints of soy. I take a bite. While the unflavored product tastes distinctly vegetal and still has a bit of what I’d call tofu-bounce, a hint of the spongy, the tear is … meaty."

    The texture of meat is what's truly difficult to reproduce. As Brown explains, we've spent thousands of years as omnivores developing the ability to eat and recognize meats. Meat is muscle, and the fibers of different muscles move and interact in different ways. That's why we can tell the difference between the texture of chicken and the texture of steak, and why it's impossible to ever replace real meat with something made out of tofu. Flavor is the easy part.

    Awesome Jobs: Meet Susan Humphris, Science Submarine Skipper

    Some of the world’s most interesting rocks aren’t accessible by foot. That’s why geologist and chemist Susan Humphris regularly uses Alvin--Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s deep-ocean submarine--to get to them. Humphris has had more than 30 dives in the US’s only sea-floor-landing submersible and, in fact, she was part of the team that made the first discovery of hydrothermal vents in the Atlantic back in 1986. Humphris has been the principal investigator in the group tasked with upgrading Alvin and its science abilities, a two-year-long project that was just recently completed. We chatted with Humphris about what it’s like to sit in a submarine the bottom of the deep ocean and why Alvin is cooler then a US Navy submarine.

    What type of science are you doing that requires a deep-ocean sub?

    I’m interested in the processes going on at hydrothermal vents. I tend to work out on the mid-ocean ridge system looking at the seafloor submarine hot springs that are gushing 350 centigrade (660 F) hot waters. The way these systems work is: it’s seawater that has percolated down into the earth’s crust, where there’s a lot of heat. The seawater reacts with the rocks and changes its chemistry. Then it comes back out as a hot spring with a different chemistry than the water that went in.

    How is the chemistry different?

    If you look at seawater it contains a lot of oxygen, it’s slightly alkaline, and it’s cold. It’s very depleted in metals. When it comes back out as a hydrothermal fluid all the oxygen has been removed and in its place are hydrogen sulfide and sometimes methane. It’s acidic and there’s no oxygen. It’s also picked up a lot of metals out the rock--and the actual chimneys are made out of those metals which have precipitated out as metal sulfides.

    So what do you learn about the earth from studying the vents?

    Quite a lot about how seawater maintains its composition. It has been relatively constant in composition for hundreds of millions years. You’ve got rivers pouring into it and rain coming in. As you input a variety of elements you have to be removing them or else the ocean’s composition would change. The hydrothermal vent system has a role in helping regulate the chemistry of seawater. The other is these vents are associated with a lot of exotic biological communities. If it wasn’t for the changes in chemistry in seawater those organisms would not be able to live. They’re living off energy stored in chemicals (because there’s no photosynthesis at the bottom of the ocean) and those chemical reactions are really critical for the existence of those communities.

    Six-Second Science Fair Projects On Vine

    I really enjoyed this compilation of the best entries to GE's Six-Second Science Fair. Using Vine, entrants had to illustrate some scientific principle or show an experiment in the video-sharing tool's six-second format. I'm impressed the potato battery worked. (via Laughing Squid)