Archive for December, 2010

A fruit fly by any other name is still a fruit fly

A good example of what South Korean educational system produces (see my previous blog) is their first astronaut, bioengineer Yi So-yeon, who was featured in this article Tuesday by The Korea Herald .  During her mission at the International Space Station she completed a number of experiments, including one that involved the assistance of 1000 fruit flies.

If I were an astronaut going up with so many flies, I’d shake the container just before lift-off to get them up in the air and lighten the load.  I heard about this trick from my next-door neighbor – a bee-keeper.  He loaded up too many hives in his truck and it went over-weight, but he beat the inspectors by banging on the side with a hammer as he drove onto the scale.

Having segued to bees, here’s a heads-up about a study done by a group of 8- to 10-year-old British school children from Blackawton Primary School.  They trained a bunch of bees to go to specific-colored and/or patterned targets by selectively rewarding them with sugar.  This experiment met the standards of the Royal Society, which published the results in this Biology Letter.  Also see these kind commentsWired Science provides a ‘dumbed-down’ version with photos, that is, an executive summary 😉 here.

“We discovered that bumble-bees can use a combination of colour and spatial relationships in deciding which colour of flower to forage from. We also discovered that science is cool and fun because you get to do stuff that no one has ever done before.”

–          Children from Blackawton

PS. Some folks think that drosophila melanogaster is a misnomer for this little critter that mysteriously spring up from discarded apples and the like.  “The fruit fly’s name is likely to change to Sophophora melanogaster if results of a new evolutionary analysis are accepted” according to this April 2010 bulletin from the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature.  Who made them lords of the fruit fly?

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South Korea achieves top ranking for education

Based on testing of nearly half a million 15-year-old students worldwide, South Korea ranks as the number 1 country overall for education.  It’s laid out beautifully in the graphical illustration by Paul Scruton for this article by UK’s Guardian on which country does best at reading, science and maths.  This breaking news is timely for me because I will be in Seoul Thursday giving a presentation hosted by the Department of Statistics at Chung-Ang University.  The USA fell far down the list in math, so I suppose I am a bit out of line trying to explain new tools of design of experiments to anyone in this country. ; )

I spoke today to a resident of Busan with a daughter in high school.  She said the school runs from 8 in the morning to 8 at night Monday through Friday and a half day every other Saturday.  No wonder South Korean teenagers test so highly relative to the USA!

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Happy holidays!

The recent collapse of our Hubert H. Hump-free (ha ha) Metrodome makes it seem like we Minnesotans must be completely deflated (pun intended) from the extraordinary snowfall this month.  However, there is an upside to this weather – excellent cross-country skiing conditions.  As you can see, this has brightened up my disposition.  I like nothing better than a ski through the woods near my home in Stillwater, where I often find myself all alone except for a startled deer — I almost literally ran across a doe (the female ungulate, not a design-of-experiment ) yesterday, for example.

Being in good spirits myself, I wish the same for you this holiday season.  Enjoy!

“He gives his harness bells a shake

To ask if there is some mistake.

The only other sound’s the sweep

Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep.

And miles to go before I sleep.”

–           Excerpt from “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost

PS. The shot from ground-level provides the perspective of one of our indigenous snow fleas, which I often see in late winter when it warms up a bit.  It’s fun to watch them jump around at random.

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