Saturday, December 29, 2007

Official-looking Image Negates Entire Field of Research

The following image has been floating around the internet, most recently on

As I was about to quit research and join the circus, I realized that biological systems could be engineered to be efficient sources of hydrogen. The numbers in the image seem arguable at best, made up at worst. As of right now I've put the clown option on hold and decided to focus on pro-biohydrogen graphic design instead:

I feel better already.

P.S. According to Wikipedia the image originated from Tesla Motors, makers of non-hydrogen cars.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

My Math Hero: Gilbert Strang

When TV was invented, it was expected to enlighten and embiggen humanity by allowing top quality academic learnings, theretofore only the privilege of the lucky few, to be beamed directly to the unlucky many. Ditto for the internet. But up until now, the best scientific content I've seen on the internet was a bunch of clowns making fun of Tycho Brahe on his birthday.

So what gives? The problem has been a shortage of compelling, charismatic math and science lecturers to break it all down for us. That's why humanity and I are thankful for the sweet mathematical stylings of Professor Gilbert Strang. This man rocks the chalk old school, old school like '99 when these lectures were originally recorded. The definitive Strang collection, including some of his later stuff on the Moore-Penrose pseudoinverse which had previously only been available as a bootleg, can be found on MIT OpenCourseWare. There is nothing I like better than a cold beer and to kick up my feet while Dr. Strang works his matrix magic.

I was moved to post this by a recent article on another MIT professor (Walter Lewin) whose physics-related act is achieving a certain amount of popular success, also on OpenCourseWare. Now I'm glad to see the genre succeed no matter who the frontman happens to be, but someone has to point out that Dr. Strang was there first and was doing it before it was cool. He is the Lou Reed of online math and science lecturing, or the DJ Kool Herc if you prefer. The Strangian influences are clear:

Strang 1999

Lewin 2007
The new stuff on the bottom is obviously more commercial, but regard the characteristic blue-dress-shirt-and-khakis. Strang pioneered that look and he owns it. Plus, Dr. Strang has the pure rock-and-roll sensibility to wear a tie on stage. A tie! I rest my case.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Sassy Bitches of Science: Barbara McClintock

Born in 1902, this tremendously sassy lady grew to become one of the most important geneticists of her time, studying the behavior of chromosomes during replication and recombination, as well as discovering transposable elements. She also never married, used corn (corn!) as her model organism, and was the first and only woman to win an unshared Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Years after her death and several biographies later, no one can decide if her work wasn't taken seriously at first because she was a woman, she was too sassy, or people just weren't ready for how awesome it was. Overall, she was one sassy bitch.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Great Douchebags of Science™: Edward Teller

Today we bring you another GDoS™, a scientist of nuclear douchebaggery. Edward Teller, along with fellow GDoS Robert Oppenheimer, was a key architect in the construction of the hydrogen bomb. Of course, we at UotH can't fault him for wanting to design a hydrocalyptic weapon. Dr. Teller earns the GDoS for a different reason: his advocacy for "non-military" applications of the H-bomb.

His most famous idea was Operation Chariot, where he proposed constructing a new harbor in Alaska by detonating multiple H-bombs. Presumably the new harbor would provide both a new deep water port and a source of SMSF. Unfortunately, those silly Eskimos took offense to this idea, so he just buried some radioactive material in their back yard instead. What a douche.

Monday, December 17, 2007

GDoS™: Erwin Schrodinger

or am I???

Up and Coming Douchebags of Science: Dr. Chris Brown

Look out science world! Here comes Dr. Brown! Congratulations on graduating, douchebag.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Stupid Lab Tricks

While we're not busy solving the world energy crisis, we take some time to dazzle our labmates with unusual combinations of typical lab items. Today, we present "Dry Ice in a Glove:"

1. Put dry ice in a glove.
2. (OPTIONAL) Place in bucket with dry ice and water for more style points.
3. ???

Watch the video to see what happens.

A Call for Funding

A recent article in the New York Times describes a shift in the way private companies pursue expensive, risky research in immensely important areas like alternative energy. The old model of lavishly funded, privately maintained internal laboratories is dead. Incidentally, this was the paradigm that delivered the totally kick-ass Bell Labs, which back in the day successfully pwned six Nobel Prizes. Evidently, the new model involves throwing money away on fruitless partnerships with non-Harvard, university-like institutions such as Stanford, UC Berkley, the University of Washington and someplace called Carnegie Mellon.

For the record, the Unicorns of the Hydrocalypse offer elite R & D packages for our corporate clients starting at $10 million. Satisfaction guaranteed.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Meet the authors

Christina, Jake, and Patrick after a long day of theorizing and keeping it real

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Personalized Energy?

Honda is developing a "Home Energy Station" where you can power your house and your car with hydrogen produced from natural gas. Could be better (biohydrogen!) but still awesome.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

UotH Annals of Science, Part 2

Ours is first and foremost a scientific blog. But that need not mean it be accessible to the scientific community only. While many of our readers are educated science practioners, others are merely interested laypeople. To both groups, I heartily recommend this paper for a survey course, journal club, or a quiet read on a holiday beach. Ars sine scienta nihil est everyone!

Great Douchebags of Science™: Tycho Brahe

Another regular feature on UotH will be devoted to some of our favorite people: The Great Douchebags of Science™.

Today we celebrate Tycho Brahe, the astronomer with the douchiest name. As if just being named Tycho wasn't douchy enough, he was born Tyge Ottesen Brahe and adopted the latinized Tycho at age fifteen. He was a Danish nobleman in the late 16th century, known by nerds and eight grade science students as a great astronomer whose detailed observations of planetary motion allowed another GDoS™ to prove that the earth moved around the sun in an elliptical orbit.

Here at UotH we know him better as the guy who wore a gold false nose after he lost part of his own in a duel, hired a dwarf to sit under his table during dinner, had a tame moose living in his castle until it got drunk and fell down the stairs to its death, and died from bladder strain. What a d-bag.

Monday, December 10, 2007

UotH Annals of Science, part 1

UotH Annals of Science will be a column that reviews the prolific scientific papers of our time. For the inaugural installment, I present Dr. T. R. Tiersch's opus, "Apomorphine-induced vomiting in rainbow trout (Salmo gairdneri)."

The opening passage speaks for itself, so I have reproduced it here in its entirety:

Vomiting, or emesis, has been well described in mammals, but little has been published about its occurrence in other vertebrates. Indirect evidence suggests that large, predatory fish were vomiting over 300 million years ago.

I challenge the reader to offer two sentences from any scientific writing that bleed with more genuine relevance than those quoted above. When this paper was published in 1988, the field of non-mammalian vomiting was in its infancy. Tiersch's work here paved the way for today's NonMamVom research.

Key Experiments
Innovative methods, such as inserting plastic balls into the trout's esophagus, allowed concrete measurement of vomit magnitude. For the first time, vomiting behavior (VB) could be quantitatively described, which any Systems Biologist will tell you is pretty damn important. Table 3 demonstrates the power of the new VB metric:

Identifying VB also allowed the authors to distinguish emesis from other fish behaviors, such as a behavior the author's determined to be "coughing." By this simple observation, the untapped potential of the market for fish pharmaceuticals became immediately apparent.

Best Quote
Systematic research in fish emesis may furnish "ichthyoemetics" for use as an adjunct administered prior to existing techniques such as pulsed gastric lavage for collection of gastric contents from live fish.


Mammalian vomiting behavior has had its day in the sun. Time to give fish a chance.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Hello world

We are the unicorns of the hydrocalypse and we're here to bring you the truth from our corner of the internet.