A Cool Thing You Shouldn’t Miss: ‘Strandbeest’ workshops for Theo Jansen’s upcoming visit

Theo Jansen, Dutch artist and all around badass, is coming to College Hill this month. Merging art and engineering, Jansen is known for building large, kinetic mechanical animals out of PVC—”Strandbeests,” as he calls them. Jansen’s Strandbeests walk down beaches in Holland on their own accord, with spindly legs that are powered by wing-like sails.

Some of his creatures, such as the Animaris Percipiere, are able to capture and store air pressure in plastic bottles to continue to move without wind. Without any electronic components, the Strandbeests can navigate between soft and hard sand, and some can even detect and change directions if they encounter water or can anchor themselves in the ground if they sense a storm is coming.  Using recycled bottles, pumps, and valves, Jansen is able to equip the beasts with a muscular and neural system of sorts. Jansen is coming to Brown and RISD this month to talk about his Strandbeests, delivering a speech Friday, November 21st in the RISD Auditorium at 6:30 p.m. Before his talk, you can create your own version of a Strandbeest. Continue Reading


Science Beyond the SciLi: Are we alone in the Universe?

It can seem like the field of science is limited to torturous problem sets in the SciLi dungeon basement. But there is awesome stuff going on in the sciences at Brown and beyond, though it can be difficult to find when you’re wasting away in the library. BlogDH presents “Science Beyond the SciLi”; so even if you’re reading this inside those concrete walls, you can see a glimmer of scientific hope.

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Science isn’t a mystery novel, so here’s the punch line: we are probably not alone. There are most likely other life forms out there wondering if they are alone in the universe. Makes your midterms feel a little less important, doesn’t it?

Now, let’s back up a second. How can I make this crazy claim? Well, I went to the inaugural lecture of the Presidential Colloquium Series ThinkingOut Loud: DECIPHERING MYSTERIES OF OUR WORLD AND BEYOND (the formatting of the title might be the biggest mystery of them all). President Paxson introduced the speaker (hence “Presidential Colloquium”), John Johnson, a professor of astronomy at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, who lectured on “Searching For Life Basking in the Warmth of Other Suns.”

Johnson’s job is to search for life on other planets. But he doesn’t just sit around basking in sunlight while sending signals to aliens and waiting for them to respond (although we have done that). He researches exoplanets, planets that orbit stars other than our own sun. A stellar astrophysicist by day and a planet hunter by night, Johnson finds undiscovered exoplanets and characterizes them, looking for planets that are not too hot and not too cold—ones that might be just right to harbor life. Continue Reading


Science Beyond the SciLi: Professor John Davenport on the State of Neuroscience

It can seem like the field of science is limited to torturous problem sets in the SciLi dungeon basement. But there is  awesome stuff going on in the sciences at Brown and beyond, though it can be difficult to find when you’re wasting away in the library. BlogDH presents “Science Beyond the SciLi,” so even if you’re reading this inside those concrete walls, you can see a glimmer of scientific hope.

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On Thursday night, a packed audience gathered in the back of Flatbread Company to listen to neuroscientist R. John Davenport speak on “Wiring Connections in Brain Science.” The talk was hosted by Science Underground and powered by free Flatbread pizza, which is the ultimate brain food, as everyone knows. Davenport, an adjunct professor of Neuroscience and the associate director of Brown Institute for Brain Science, gave an overview of the current state of neuroscience and where the field is going.

Fun fact: The brain is made of 100 billion neurons. That’s as many stars as there are in the Milky Way galaxy. Each neuron makes a thousand connections with other neurons, so basically a neuron would be killing the LinkedIn game. But these connections are way more important than your endorsement-seeking acquaintances: they make up the brain functions that allow you to do everything from reading a map to playing chess. Neuroscientists are working on mapping all of these connections in what they call the “connectome,” the equivalent of the Human Genome Project for neural connections, so it’s a pretty big deal. Continue Reading


Sextion: Sex (during Reading) Period

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When you’re stressed out, what’s your coping mechanism? We all know that inhaling several slices of pizza can be a great temporary relief, but have you ever thought about sex as a study break option?

If you’ve spent all day hunched over a desk trying to cram as much into your brain as possible, chances are, sitting on Reddit for half an hour before crashing in bed is not going to give you the kind of release your body needs.

You need something that stretches out your muscles, gets your mind off of school, and gives you serious endorphins. You could always go to the gym, but let’s be real; none of the gyms are open when you’re done with the night’s work. Plus, nothing helps you fall asleep like a nice trip to O-Town.

In addition to the short-term gratification, sex has some serious long-term benefits for your reading period health:

For those of you non-bio concentrators, just so you know, oxytocin is an awesome hormone and has some serious credentials when it comes to reducing stress. It reduces cortisol, a hormone that is released in response to stress. If your body is not given the opportunity to decompress, that cortisol does not go away. It then continues to build up until eventually your body falls into a cycle of chronic stress.  Unlike endorphins, you aren’t going to get a shot of oxytocin from running on a treadmill because your body releases it when you experience physical contact with another person. It helps you feel more comfortable and secure and puts a serious dent in the levels of cortisol circulating in your bloodstream.

Continue Reading


Tips from writer and physicist Alan Lightman on science writing

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Imagine a poppy seed sitting at the center of Fenway Park. If the baseball stadium were the size of an atom, then the poppy seed would be the relative size of its nucleus, nearly 100,000 times smaller.

This is an example of one of the tools that Alan Lightman, internationally renowned writer and physicist, discussed in his talk on “Science Writing” earlier this week: the use of metaphor to express large numbers and complex ideas. Lightman is a visiting professor in Brown’s Nonfiction Writing Program, and he holds joint appointment at MIT in the English and physics departments as one of only a few professors to straddle the sciences and humanities. He is best known for his bestselling novel Einstein’s Dreams, and has published numerous other books and essays in addition to, you know, doing theoretical astrophysics research. Thanks for the feelings of inadequacy. Check out a few more of his tips on science writing after the jump: Continue Reading


Brown selected for CubeSat mission

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Providence isn’t generally regarded as a hub of space travel (for now), but the engineers and astrophysicists of College Hill are nonetheless set to leave their mark on the stratosphere with NASA’s recent announcement of its CubeSat Mission candidates. The mission — an initiative to launch a class of nano-satellites aboard rockets scheduled for 2015, 2016, and 2017 — will use satellites designed and constructed by fifteen educational and research institutions, including Brown. Read the details here.

If there’s one thing the film Gravity taught the world, it’s that poorly constructed satellites are a big no-no. With the sturdy designs of Brown’s astrophysicists up in orbit, George Clooney and Sandra Bullock will hopefully run into fewer difficulties while at work.

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