Friday, September 07, 2007

Packard meeting

I'm currently in Monterey thanking the Packard Foundation for their generous support. They're fantastic, and their fellowship has been a godsend that's really given me the flexibility in my research that I've needed. The best part about their annual meetings is that it's a chance for me to listen to good talks pitched to a general audience on an enormously broad set of science and engineering subjects. Some things that I learned yesterday:
  • It's possible to do successful astronomical planet-hunting surveys using 300mm camera lenses to make a telescope array.
  • There are molecules and molecular ions in astronomical gas clouds that are extremely difficult to make and study on earth (e.g., CH5-; C6H7+).
  • The human brain is 2% of the body's mass but uses 20% of the body's oxygen. It also has roughly 10x the concentration of iron, copper, and zinc as other soft tissues on the body.
  • Chemical "noise" (e.g., concentration fluctuations) is essential for some kinds of cell differentiation.
  • There are other photoactive parts in your eye besides rods and cones, and if those other parts are intact, your body clock can still re-set itself even in the absence of vision.
  • Soft tissue can (pretty convincingly) survive inside fossil bones dating back tens of millions of years.
  • Viral phylogeny shows convincingly that HIV did not start from contaminated polio vaccines grown in monkeys, and that HIV came from Africa first to Haiti, and then from Haiti to the US in the late 1960s.
  • Lots of microbes live as biofilms on the ocean floor via chemical energy gained from the decomposition of basaltic rock.


Anonymous said...

I had an organic mechanisms professor whose research focused on making crazy strained ions. Every Friday, he gave a lecture that was a case study of the formation mechanism of a ridiculous ion or radical. I distinctly remember him saying several times, "this ion only exists naturally in interstellar space, or in flames." Not a particularly practical class, but it was fun to think about strained molecules zooming around through space.

sleeping said...

An interesting idea about body clock...