Sunday, May 01, 2005

Living cells as computerized, human centrifuge and teaching biology via science fiction

Welcome! "Alien Life" tracks the latest discoveries and thoughts in the various elements of the famous Drake Equation. Here's today's news:
g Stars – Sixty-nine days before it gets up-close-and-personal with a comet, NASA's Deep Impact spacecraft successfully photographed its quarry, comet Tempel 1, at a distance of 39.7 million miles. See article.
g Abodes – Since arriving at the Columbia Hills, the Mars Exploration Rover Spirit has encountered some mysterious phenomena. The rover's right front "arthritic" wheel that plagued Spirit's 2-mile trek across the plains is now suddenly working perfectly and the once dust-covered solar panels whose power output was cut in half have now been miraculously wiped clean. But the biggest mystery of the Columbia Hills may lie in the angled rock outcrops that Spirit has found in the vicinity of "Larry's Lookout" on Husband Hill. See article.
g Life – In a step toward making living cells function as if they were tiny computers, engineers at Princeton have programmed bacteria to communicate with each other and produce color-coded patterns. See article. For related story, see “Scientists make bacteria behave like computers”.
g Intelligence – Humans like to think of themselves as unusual. We’ve got big brains that make it possible for us to think, and we believe that we have free will and that our behavior can’t be described by some mechanistic set of theorems or ideas. But even in terms of much of our behavior, we really aren’t very different from other animals. See article.
g Message – Here’s a quick, easy to understand primer to SETI’s radio searches and the Fermi Paradox.
g Cosmicus – NASA will use a new human centrifuge to explore artificial gravity as a way to counter the physiologic effects of extended weightlessness for future space exploration. See article.
g Learning – Here’s a neat classroom activity courtesy of NASA: “The Rare Earth”. How special are the circumstances that have allowed complex life, like animals and plants, to develop on Earth? In this activity, students systematically investigate the time frame for complex life to develop on Earth.
g Imagining – Here’s a neat article about learning biology through science fiction; readers may recall that on this site we’ve highlighted a number of student projects that created extraterrestrials. See article.
g Aftermath – For the last million years or so, mankind's principal diplomatic interest has been to handle social intercourse on his own planet. Interaction with other societies, from other worlds, was the province of science fiction. That may soon change. Modern science and technology suggest that a transmutation of past fiction to present reality could be imminent. See article.

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