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New Technique Lets Scientists See Through Whole Organisms

by Michael Keller

Seeing is believing when it comes to understanding how organisms work. For biologists trying to learn about what’s going on inside a body, one of the biggest obstacles is not being able to put their eyeballs on a part or system without other objects getting in the way. The answer is usually going in with one invasive tool or another, which ends up damaging or destroying the thing they’re trying to investigate. 

Now California Institute of Technology scientists say they have improved upon a solution to clearing up the picture. The technique builds on work that garnered widespread attention last year. In that effort, assistant professor of biology Viviana Gradinaru and her team used detergent and a polymer to make a rodent brain transparent for study in unprecedented detail. 

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Performance Artists Could Use Some Serious Sports Medicine

by Chris Gorski, Inside Science

They endure long hours of oft strenuous practice. The way to get better is to practice more, even when injured. For hours at a time, their hearts can beat at 65 percent of their maximum rate. Injuries are common, and there’s always someone waiting to take your spot.

Life in the arts can be tough.

While athletes often have teams of trainers and doctors available to help, many of the insights developed in sports medicine have yet to move beyond the sidelines to the dancers and musicians that could benefit.

In May, at a meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine in Orlando, Florida, a number of scientists and physicians explained their work with everyone from ballet dancers to heavy metal rockers to classical musicians. They are taking a new approach to the arts — both the disciplines and the participants — in an effort to understand significant issues among recreational and professional artists.

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Plastic Style

These plastic products have gotten a style upgrade from designers using 3-D printers. Two lamps and a 3-D printed heart made to help surgeons visualize complicated procedures before they begin are on display at the 2014 Euroscience Open Forum being held now in Copenhagen. 

The models, built by Belgian additive manufacturing company Materialize with support from the European Commission, calls attention to advancing artistic, medical and scientific applications for 3-D printers. 

All pictures by Michael Keller.

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What Some Can Do With A Little Tension

These striking images of an insect that walks on the surface of water come from the lab of John Bush, an MIT applied mathematics professor. Bush studies fluid dynamics, focusing his science—and the art that often comes from it—on surface tension.

Visualized in the pictures above is the movement of the water strider, a bug that, according to Bush, stands on water through “surface tension force generated by curvature of the free surface.” It propels itself across the surface by rowing hydrophobic legs, which transfer momentum to the water by deforming the film-like surface and shedding fluid vortices as seen in these pictures. Click here to see a larger version of the top picture, which graced the cover of the journal Nature several years ago. Read the paper that describes the physics of water strider motion here.

The lab showed the vortices by floating Thymol Blue, a dye that is insoluble in water and is often used as a pH indicator, on the water’s surface.

We’ve featured work from the Bush lab before. Check out this story to see how you can play with surface tension to make fun cocktail boats driven by alcohol.

All images courtesy David Hu, Brian Chan & John Bush/MIT.

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