Archive for October, 2012
Posted in Uncategorized by Courtney on October 23rd, 2012

The answer to the age-old question “does life exist on other planets?” may be answered sooner than we think. Researchers are currently developing a project that could prove this theory, by testing for the existence of DNA on Mars. Via Mashable:

Two high-profile entrepreneurs say they want to put a DNA sequencing machine on the surface of Mars in a bid to prove the existence of extraterrestrial life.

In what could become a race for the first extraterrestrial genome, researcher J. Craig Venter said Tuesday that his Maryland academic institute and company, Sythentic Genomics, would develop a machine capable of sequencing and beaming back DNA data from Mars.

Separately, Jonathan Rothberg, founder of Ion Torrent, a DNA sequencing company, is collaborating on an effort to adapt his company’s “Personal Genome Machine” for Martian conditions.

Although neither team yet has a berth on Mars rocket, their plans reflect the belief that the simplest way to prove there is life on Mars is to send a DNA sequencing machine to the planet.

“There will be DNA life forms there,” Venter predicted Tuesday in New York, where he was speaking at the Wired Health Conference.

Venter said researchers working with him have already begun tests at a Mars-like test site in the Mojave Desert. Their goal, he said, is to demonstrate a machine capable of autonomously isolating microbes from soil, sequencing their DNA, and then transmitting the information to a remote computer, as would be required on an unmanned Mars mission. Heather Kowalski, a spokeswoman for Venter, confirmed the existence of the project, but also said the prototype system was “not yet 100% robotic.”

Looking for DNA on Mars won’t be easy. A robot would have to scoop up soil and prepare a sample automatically. The sequencing machine would need to work in cold temperatures and in a very thin atmosphere made mostly of CO2. Martian genes might also be different from those in the bodies of terrestrial animals, perhaps being made up of different chemical building blocks.

If they were to find the existence of DNA through this experiment, it would undeniably prove that extraterrestrial life does exist. We can’t wait to learn more about this project as new details emerge!

Until then, if you’re looking for a DNA project of your own, check out our custom DNA portraits

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Posted in Inspirational Design of the Week, Just Cool by Courtney on October 18th, 2012

Tree ring lights by Judson Beaumont

It’s getting colder outside and we’re always on the hunt for cool ways to bring the outdoors in. Check out these awesome lights via Colossal:

These funky tree lights were designed by Judson Beaumont of Straight Line Designs, a furniture design firm out of Vancouver. Called Tree Rings, the lights are made out of a beetle pine shell topped with mirrored Plexiglas that allows the embedded cool fluorescent light to shine through in the dark. I’m not sure of the practical application, but it appears the lights can be used as as small tables and bear enough weight to act as a stool.

The vibrant colours remind us of our Infrared and Firesky DNA Portraits!

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Posted in Art+Science, Just Cool, Science by Courtney on October 16th, 2012

The Space Shuttle Challenger meets the Dodge Challenger, NASA’s Liberty Bell 7 meets Philly’s Liberty Bell, and the Viking Probe resembles Eric the Red. These are just a few “NASA Mashups” created by artist Doug Pedersen, in his 6 part series which matches NASA creations with their earthly equals. Via Wired:

Pedersen credits the inspiration for the series to a lifelong love of NASA and space exploration along with the resurgence of interest that surrounds Curiosity landing on Mars. “I had also just finished reading Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Space Chronicles and was probably inspired by that a bit”, he adds.

Though the overall concept is quite straightforward (pick a classic NASA spacecraft, combine it with another pop-culture icon that has the same name), Pedersen says that the devil is in the details. In particular, getting the text captions right for each diagram was tricky. “They had to be sort of funny yet relate to both the craft and pop-culture icon.” He nails it with MPG figures that include “earth orbit”, and mission objectives that add “Conquer”, “Burn”, and “Pillage” to the standard scientific fare.

Pedersen wanted to “give the pieces a feeling as though they’d been buried in some NASA file cabinet that no one had bothered to look through in decades”.  He added some aging effects and even graph lines to the artwork to give it this effect. We love his attention to detail, as well as his pairing of science + art in this project.

We’ve created a mashup of our own with genetics and art! Check out our DNA Portraits

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Posted in Just Cool, Science by Courtney on October 12th, 2012

Portrait of Albert Einstein

Known for his fuzzy hair, quirky personality, and of course E=mc— Albert Einstein is the original “absent-minded professor”. Today he is regarded for being one of the most intelligent men in history. Have you ever wondered what sets him apart from the rest?

In 1955 a pathologist named Thomas Harvey removed, preserved, and photographed Einstein’s brain after an autopsy. Fast forward 57 years and Harvey has now given us the chance to digitize these samples, and they’ve been turned in to a new iPad app so we can take a closer look at the famous physicist’s brain . Via Discovery News:

A new iPad app lets anyone who wants to, take a microscopic look at Albert Einstein’s brain … The app was created by a Chicago museum that got permission to scan and make digital about 350 slides containing very thin slices of Einstein’s brain that were obtained after he died. Already, doctors studying Einstein’s brain discovered that his parietal lobe — which governs our understanding of math, language and spatial relationships — was 15 percent wider than normal. The slides will allow researchers to dig deep into the genius’ brain tissue and possibly find other areas that are different from the rest of our brains.

The app, which is dubbed “Einstein Brain Atlas“, can be purchased for just $9.99. One of the best parts about it? All profits from the sales will go to support the Department of Defense’s National Museum of Health and Medicine. Even after half a century, Einstein is still making an impact on modern day science.

Love science? Browse through our unique portrait ideas.

Photo credit: Yousef Karsh circa 1948.



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Posted in Science by Courtney on October 5th, 2012

Man holiding up a bushel of cilantro

Ever wonder what causes an herb to be such a controversial subject? Cilantro is normally loved or hated, there’s rarely an in between. It is so disliked it has sprouted a website called I Hate Cilantro where people can facilitate discussions about the garnish, and even share a haiku on the subject.

Believe it or not, recent studies have shown a correlation between distaste for cilantro and a specific gene. Via NPR:

Geneticists at 23andMe in California asked about 25,000 people whether they like cilantro or think it smells soapy. When they searched the people’s DNA for regions that correlate with a distaste for the herb, a single spot jumped out. And, it sits right next to a cluster of odor-detecting genes, including one that is known to specifically recognize the soapy aromas in cilantro’s bouquet.

The authors propose that this odor gene contributes to a person’s dislike for cilantro because it increases the herb’s soapy smell.

The scientists pinpointed three more genes that influence our perception of cilantro: Two of the genes are involved with tasting bitter foods and one gene detects pungent compounds, like those in wasabi.

Overall, Nicholas Eriksson (lead author on the study) says these studies demonstrate that DNA does shape our opinion of cilantro, but probably not enough that we can’t overcome it. “It isn’t like your height, that you’re stuck with. People can change it,” he says.

Who knew that such distaste for the leafy green substance could be engrained in your genetic makeup!

Ever wonder what your genes would look like as art? Check out our DNA portraits.

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Posted in Inspirational Design of the Week, International by Courtney on October 4th, 2012

Wireless Wooden Keyboard

Looking for a bit of craftsmanship in your electronics? Check out these amazing wooden keyboards created by French design group Orée, which allow users to go against the grain (literally!). Via Ultralinx:

If you like the feel of natural materials being part of your tech, you’ll love this wooden keyboard by Orée. The keyboard itself and the keys are all made from premium Maple wood. Each keyboard is made from a single piece of wood which means every keyboard will also have a different grain.

It’s got chiclet style keys which are now becoming very common in modern day keyboards – most notable in the Apple keyboards. You can clearly see that it was inspired by Apple’s own keyboard. Each keyboard is polished, oil rubbed and assembled by hand. It has Bluetooth 3.0 to connect to devices and only needs a pair of AAA batteries to run. They’re made to order so it’ll take a month or two to get to you.

Close up image of wireless wooden keyboard

Despite the popularity of touch screen devices, a physical keyboard is something that’s still sought after. Orée is targeting their new product at tablet users who have a knack for modern, minimalist design, as well as sustainable technology. Despite the fact that a single keyboard can take up to 5 weeks to make, they’re still only retailed for about €125. What do you think of Orée’s natural take on technology?

Go against the grain when it comes to art too! Check out our DNA art.

Header image via Ultralinx.
Text image via Designboom 

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