Lab Notes

Short stories and links shared by the scientists in our community

Bruno Latour, the Post-Truth Philosopher, Mounts a Defense of Science

Shared by

Devang Mehta


University of Alberta

He spent decades deconstructing the ways that scientists claim their authority. Can his ideas help them regain that authority today?

Some spooky Halloween Archaeology facts from Massive Consortium member Darcy Shapiro

Shared by

Darcy Shapiro

Evolutionary Anthropology

Rutgers University

💀 You can estimate a person’s age from their skeleton (specifically, from how many/which bones have fused growth plates) — and the more skeletal bones you have, the better your age estimate! 

🧛🏼‍♂️ Bioarchaeologists recently excavating a 17th-18th century cemetery in Poland have found graves of “suspected vampires” — people the locals interred with iron sickles or with rocks under their chins, to keep them from rising and feeding on the living. 

🔪 Paleoanthropologists have found cut-marked Neanderthal bones at a number of Neanderthal sites. The placement of these marks suggests that individuals were dismembered and de-fleshed — a likely indicator of cannibalism. 

👻 Happy Halloween! 🎃

🌋 Mount Ngauruhoe, aka Mount Doom 🌋

Shared by

Brittany Ward

Geochemistry and Paleoclimatology

University of Waikato

One of the most famous volcanoes of New Zealand is Mount Ngauruhoe, which some may recognize as Mount Doom from Lord of the Rings. The largely accepted translation of its Māori (New Zealand's indigenous people) name is "throwing hot stones," characterizing its active volcanism. Ngauruhoe isn't actually a volcano on its own, but rather a cone of the larger Tongariro Volcanic Complex, which resides in the Tongariro National Park.

Ngauruhoe is a stratovolcano, which means its built of alternating layers of lava and ash. The type of lava that erupts from Ngauruhoe cools and hardens relatively quickly after eruption and piles closely around the volcano, a behavior that gives Nagauruhoe and other stratovolcanoes their iconic cone shape.

Recent studies suggest Ngauruhoe began forming 7,000 years ago. There is a long Māori verbal record of eruption activity and 60 events since written records began in 1839. Ngauruhoe was erupting roughly every 9 years until its last eruption in 1975. Today New Zealand-based research teams actively monitor the seismic and chemical activity of Ngauruhoe. 

Did climate change cause Hurricane Florence?

Shared by

Gabriela Serrato Marks

Marine Geology

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The short answer is no. Our planet's changing climate did not cause Florence to form, but it's definitely not making things any easier. Because of increased air and water temperatures, hurricanes can carry more rain onto land than they used to. That makes flooding an even more pressing threat. In addition to being wetter, hurricanes are also larger: a brand-new (not yet peer-reviewed) analysis released yesterday showed that the diameter of Florence is 50 miles (80 km) larger because of the influence of climate change. Analyses completed after landfall will have more information about how warming temperatures are influencing big storms, but for now, scientists will continue to watch and wait.

Giant Squids, Giant Eyes, but Rather Small Brain Lobes

"This is the first time we get to have any information about what the world might look like to a giant squid, and that’s just super cool."

The Giant Squid’s Biggest Mystery

Deep below the sea surface, giant squid fight off predatory sperm whales–stirring legendary tales of epic battles. Yet for all it’s infamy, discovering how many of these enormous cephalopods are lurking in the ocean has remained impossible…until now. Using simple arithmetic, Elizabeth Shea, Curator of Mollusks at the Delaware Museum of Natural History, along with colleagues at the Smithsonian Institution try to solve the mystery – with unfathomable results!

Love, Octopus-ly

It’s small. It’s striped. It’s looking for love. Meet the lesser Pacific striped octopus. Full-time biologist—part-time cephalopod matchmaker, Richard Ross invites us into his secret home lab where he studies the mating rituals of these tiny cephalopods.

Do Stars Fall Quietly into Black Holes, or Crash into Something Utterly Unknown?

Astronomers at The University of Texas at Austin and Harvard University have put a basic principle of black holes to the test, showing that matter completely vanishes when pulled in. Their results constitute another successful test for Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity.

Has lithium-battery genius John Goodenough done it again?

Researchers have struggled for decades to safely use powerful—but flammable—lithium metal in a battery. Now John Goodenough, the 94-year-old father of the lithium-ion battery, is claiming a novel solution as a blockbuster advance.

Starving Prostate Cancer With What You Eat for Dinner

When you dine on curry and baked apples, enjoy the fact that you are eating something that could play a role starving — or even preventing — cancer.

Octopus: The Footed Void

Their intelligence is all the more striking because it has evolved completely independently of the line that gave rise to us: our last common ancestor—perhaps some simple, slug-like creature—lived well over 540 million year ago.

Other Minds by Peter Godfrey-Smith review – the octopus as intelligent alien

"If we can make contact with cephalopods as sentient beings, it is not because of a shared history, not because of kinship, but because evolution built minds twice over."

The Mind of an Octopus

Eight smart limbs plus a big brain add up to a weird and wondrous kind of intelligence.

Watch cuttlefish apparently pretending to walk just like crabs

It could be a strategy to deter predators by making them think soft cuttlefish have a hard shell, or trick prey into thinking they're harmless.

The Scandalous Life of Nurse and Adventurer Kate Marsden

She spent 11 months trekking to Siberia to find a cure for leprosy, but her love life overshadowed everything.

People With Leprosy Were Exiled There—Should It Be a Tourist Destination?

Kalaupapa, Hawaii, is a former leprosy colony that’s still home to several of the people who were exiled there through the 1960s. Once they all pass away, the federal government wants to open up the isolated peninsula to tourism. But at what cost?

Condensed Matters on Soundcloud

Extended and exclusive audio versions of our Condensed Matters series.

The Spiritual, Reductionist Consciousness of Christof Koch

What the neuroscientist is discovering is both humbling and frightening him.

Scientific Controversies No. 11: Consciousness

Director of Sciences Janna Levin invites neuroscientist Christof Koch (President and Chief Scientific Officer of the Allen Institute for Brain Science) and philosopher David Chalmers (Director of the Center for Mind, Brain and Consciousness at New York University) to ask: Do androids actually dream of electric sheep?

Daniel Dennet's Science of the Soul

A philosopher’s lifelong quest to understand the making of the mind.

Can Integrated Information Theory Explain Consciousness?

A radical new solution to the mind–body problem poses problems of its own

Why can’t the world’s greatest minds solve the mystery of consciousness?

Philosophers and scientists have been at war for decades over the question of what makes human beings more than complex robots

Consciousness Began When the Gods Stopped Speaking

How Julian Jaynes’ famous 1970s theory is faring in the neuroscience age.

Male cuttlefish filmed fighting over a female for the first time

Researchers have previously witnessed this behavior in the lab, but this is the first time it's been caught in the wild.

How cuttlefish fight

There's a growing body of evidence that cuttlefish are smart enough to assess the relative strength of their opponents to gauge their odds before fighting. They modify their behaviors – including their skin patterns – accordingly.