Science

Neuroembryology in Wartime: Rita Levi-Montalcini and the Discovery Of Nerve Growth Factor

Neuroembryology in Wartime: Rita Levi-Montalcini and the Discovery Of Nerve Growth Factor

It is 1942, and Allied bombs are raking the city of Turin, wreaking a thudding vengeance for Il Duce’s cynical alliance with Nazi Germany. Amidst the panic and carnage, a woman carefully gathers her most precious items, a microscope and a set of pain-stakingly prepared slides, before heading into her basement to wait out the attack. A Jew, ejected from her university position in 1938 because of ra... »

Maria Montessori: When Genius Devours Itself

Maria Montessori: When Genius Devours Itself

There are some people who lack the splendid good sense of dying at the right time. Geniuses who flared with an early fire and then ground out their latter days in petty feuds and stifling orthodoxy. That line of demarcation between early brilliance and later brutality is always fascinating – what happens to genius when it turns against its own best interests – and there are few examples of it so m... »

Hedy LaMarr: The Movie Star Who Invented Bluetooth… in 1942.

Hedy LaMarr: The Movie Star Who Invented Bluetooth… in 1942.

A movie star. An avant-garde composer. A radio-controlled torpedo. Wi-Fi. One of the unfortunate truths about our web of modern comforts is that the great majority of them stem, via twisting strands of causality, from warfare. World War II in particular forced the West into an orgy of technological creativity whose fruits we are still blithely and blissfully nomming on. One of the strangest storie... »

Neil Shubin’s Your Inner Fish

Neil Shubin’s Your Inner Fish

If you haven’t seen any of Neil Shubin’s 3 part series, Your Inner Fish on PBS, start now! It can be streamed here. It’s in the same vein as the new Cosmos, but with a stronger emphasis on biology, anatomy, genetics, and paleontology. In Cosmos, you get NDT’s cool, calm, perhaps-slightly-baked, but always reverential delivery. In Your Inner Fish, you get Shubin’s R... »

Life is not a ladder. Or, really, a tree.

Life is not a ladder. Or, really, a tree.

I’m going to stand on a soapbox for a second and talk about life. In particular, I’m going to talk about evolution. In a lot of common parlance, and a lot of media, we refer to evolution as something like a ladder — think the terrible image I used as my featured image. Humans are usually at the top. Even when we’re being really careful about it, we use a metaphor like a tre... »

Not-So-Jurassic Park

Not-So-Jurassic Park

Here’s a question for you: What do you get when you put a mammoth genome into an elephant egg? Is it a mammoth or an elephant or something else? And why would you do it? »

Biological Units: The Strength of A Single Cell

Biological Units: The Strength of A Single Cell

Several recent papers have proposed methods of seeing huge numbers of individual RNA molecules within a cell. I suspect that half the appeal of these methods is the beautiful images they generate. But they’re significant largely because they allow us to pick apart biology at an increasingly tiny scale — in this case, see how an individual cell functions, rather than how the average cel... »

Understanding the Lost Children: The Life and Science of Anna Freud

Understanding the Lost Children: The Life and Science of Anna Freud

Humans have a profound genius for generating terrible ideas.  Slavery.  Theocratic government.  But there is one particular idea we hung onto for an unfathomably long amount of time before finally questioning, and that is the notion that Children Are Property, and therefore may be treated more or less however we please.  Our appreciation for the importance of their early environment, and the respo... »

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