17 June 2013

Science Roundup 2

I've been crazy busy lately with a new job and a move to Indiana. I have some posts to work on, but in the meantime here are several stories (article-length) full of delicious sciencey goodness that have captured my interest of late.

The Girl Who Turned to Bone. Carl Zimmer tells a fascinating story in The Atlantic of a rare disease that causes the growth of a second skeleton. Zimmer perfectly captures the obstacles of rare diseases, the sense of aloneness of people who have rare diseases and the community built by Joanne Peeper, and the wider and unforseen benefits of studying and attempting to cure rare diseases. Fascinating, compelling, and packed full of interesting science.
"She could feel her right hip freezing in place. She knew that if she couldn’t stop it, she would probably never be able to walk again. Before the fall, Peeper had been planning on getting a job as a social worker. Now she couldn’t even get dressed by herself. On top of it all, she was lonely. She assumed that, of the 6 billion–odd people in the world, she was the only one with a second skeleton."
Poisoning Your Lover's Coffee. Or Tea. Or Smoothie. Or... Deborah Blum writes another interesting piece on poison. Well, it's kind of her thing. This one is specifically about ethylene glycol, commonly found in coolant and antifreeze. 
"But the other point here is that he was – allegedly, at least – so easily persuaded to drink that laced coffee. So unsuspecting of the taste. And that brings me to the another point about ethylene glycol. In pure solution (as found at places like Anderson) it’s colorless and odorless. And – in this form, in a container of antifreeze, in any of its applications – from the poisoner’s point of view, it offers another advantage – it’s rather seductively sweet."
The Big Fat Truth. Virginia Hughes, writing for Nature, takes on a bothersome fact: more studies are showing that being overweight doesn't always cause earlier death. There's even a name for it -- the obesity paradox.
"Being overweight increases a person's risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and many other chronic illnesses. But these studies suggest that for some people — particularly those who are middle-aged or older, or already sick — a bit of extra weight is not particularly harmful, and may even be helpful. (Being so overweight as to be classed obese, however, is almost always associated with poor health outcomes.)"
Without Warning. Oregon photographer Brad Goldpaint captured a series of long-exposure images of the northern lights dancing over Crater Lake National Park. The final series captures the International Space Station (ISS) flying over. Watching this video is as calming and awe-inspiring as watching the videos of earth taken from the ISS.
"Near 11pm, I was staring upward towards a clear night sky when suddenly, without warning, an unmistakable faint glow of the aurora borealis began erupting in front of me. I quickly packed up my gear, hiked down to my truck, and sped to a north facing location. With adrenaline pumping, I raced to the edge of the caldera, set up a time-lapse sequence, and watched the northern lights dance until sunrise."