The Sky’s Limits

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Every day around 30,000 aircraft take to Europe’s skies. Choreographing this airborne dance is daunting. At the moment, it’s orchestrated by the disparate air traffic management systems of each European country, with control handed over at border crossings. The aeronautics research team at the University of Malta is part of an ambitious EU project to change that by establishing a single European sky, enabling EU air traffic controllers to manage increasing amounts of traffic with greater safety, lower costs, and a reduced environmental impact.

Image courtesy FlightRadar24.comOne of the things I love about writing is the way it feels like an endless journey of discovery, constantly offering opportunities to learn about new subjects (and to revisit familiar ones from a different angle). I recently wrote an article for the University of Malta’s Think Magazine about their aeronautics team’s research; I’d never given much thought to air traffic management before, and I really enjoyed learning a bit about the field. It turns out to be a pretty active area of research, full of challenging problems, interesting solutions, and important practical considerations. I really enjoyed writing the article, and it’s available for free on Think‘s website in case you want to learn more about the choreography of the skies.

(Image courtesy FlightRadar24.com. If you’ve got a few minutes to spare, go play with it — it’s fun to see the patterns in planes’ routes!)

Sequencing the Blue Beetle Genome

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I would normally save this striking video for a Found While Foraging, but since it’s time-sensitive I decided to share it immediately:

Dean Rider, an assistant professor at Wright State University, got in touch with me about his crowd-funding project to sequence the blue beetle genome. I’ve never heard of the blue beetle, but it sounds like a fantastic little critter and I’m generally fond of crowd-funding (as has certainly become clear by now), so have a look at the project and consider spreading the word, even if you can’t back it yourself.

Speciation in Reverse

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I don’t usually advertise my Accumulating Glitches posts on here, but I decided to make an exception for today’s post. It’s about a relatively straightforward study that raises a host of interesting questions which I thought some of you might find interesting. Here’s an excerpt to give you an idea:

Darwin’s finches have become a textbook example in evolutionary biology, speciating as they adapted to different environments in their spread through the Galapagos islands. In the past two decades, the opposite has been happening on Floreana island in the south of the archipelago, according to a paper published in the journal American Naturalist. The opposite of speciation, however, isn’t necessarily extinction — at least, not in the familiar sense of a species dying out. Another way for speciation to roll backwards is through hybridization, a process that raises many more (and more interesting) questions than ‘straightforward’ extinction.

Click to continue reading on Accumulating Giltches

Ref
Kleindorfer S, O’Connor JA, Dudaniec RY, Myers SA, Robertson J, & Sulloway FJ (2014). Species collapse via hybridization in Darwin’s tree finches. The American naturalist, 183 (3), 325-41 PMID: 24561597

Live 3-D X-ray video of a fly’s muscles in mid-flight

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Flies are incredibly agile on the wing, pulling off twists and turns that outstrip anything we’ve accomplished. Their flight is powered by two pairs of large muscles in their thorax which contract rhythmically to make their wings beat anywhere between 100 and 1000 times per second. Power is transferfed from these muscles to the wings by a hinge made of an intricate collection of steering muscles. Although the steering muscles make up less than 3% of the flight muscle mass, they very effectively direct the force produced by the larger muscles, thus guiding the fly’s aerial acrobatics. In a paper appearing in PLoS Biology, a team of scientists from the UK and Switzerland used a particle accelerator to record high-speed X-ray images of blowflies (Calliphora vicina) in flight, producing a 3-D video of the inside of the fly showing the muscles moving as it manuevered. Continue reading

Found while foraging (March 18, 2013)

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It’s been a few months since my last linkfest, so it seems like high time for a fresh collection. The transition to a new continent and  new career has taken up a lot of my time and energy over the last few months, and unfortunately that’s meant I’ve given Inspiring Science less attention than I’d like to. Hopefully I’ll settle into a new rhythm soon and start posting more frequently again. In the meantime you can also find my writing at Accumulating Glitches or my Beacon project if you’re hankering for more.  As always, feel free to add more links in the comments!
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Drug resistance evolves in inbred parasites

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Mosquito (photo courtesy Wikipedia)It all starts with a mosquito bite. When a hungry mosquito pierces someone’s skin to gorge herself, she also pumps in her saliva to stop the blood from clotting. Far too often, microscopic stowaways hiding in the insect’s salivary glands also make the trip, crossing over into the victim’s bloodstream to look for a new home. These serpentine parasites swim along the blood vessels, making their way to the liver and infecting liver cells within just a few minutes. They hide inside these cells for anywhere from a week to a month (or even several months, in some cases), copying their DNA and growing larger and larger as they prepare for the next stage of their life. Eventually, the growing mass breaks up. A swarm of single-celled parasites bursts out of the liver cells and into the blood; once there, they invade red blood cells, feeding on their haemoglobin and energy stores to fuel another reproductive burst which will infect more red blood cells. As the parasite spreads through the blood, the unfortunate host will start showing the symptoms of malaria — everything from headaches and joint pain to fever, vomiting, and even convulsions. When a mosquito bites an infected person, she sucks up the parasite as part of her bloody meal. The malaria parasite mates within the mosquito, going through several stages before producing the serpentine cells that migrate to the salivary glands, ready to start the entire cycle anew.
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