The Grand Canyon: Home to Ancient Vampire Bats and Ground Sloth Poop

A long time ago in a canyon far far away… prehistoric animals left traces of their existence for scientists to discover. We celebrate those discoveries and their contributions to science with National Fossil Day. This year’s focus is the rich knowledge gained from the fossils found at the Grand Canyon National Park

This year’s promotional artwork depicts a 9 foot long Shasta Ground Sloth entering Rampart Cave on the west end of the park, surrounded by the large droppings that remained fossilized in the cave for around 11,000- 40,000 years. The fossilized dung has provided a wealth of information about the local plants and environmental conditions from the sloth’s time.

Also included in the artwork is an extinct vampire bat, a distant but larger cousin to living vampire bats in Central and South America. Remains found in the cave suggests these bats may have fed on the blood of the Shasta Ground Sloth. Prehistoric life could be pretty rough!

The Grand Canyon might seem far from Moraine Valley, but you’re closer to fossils than you might think. Mazon Creek is a well-known fossil collecting site in Illinois, famous for its excellent preservation and fossil variety.

One of the more interesting findings to come out of Mazon Creek is now the Illinois state fossil. Known as the Tully Monster (Tullimonstrum gregarium), scientists currently believe it was a soft-bodied invertebrate that lived on the sea floor back when Illinois used to sit near the equator. Its strange body shape has left scientists stumped as to what kind of animal it actually was.

The library has plenty of books and media to satisfy your need for fossil knowledge. Find them here!

How AI is Changing the Healthcare Landscape and What’s Coming Next

Machine learning and high-powered data processing has the potential to transform medicine and healthcare. How will you make healthcare decisions in the future? How will treatments evolve thanks to data? In this talk, A.I. expert David Ducat will talk about the actual work in healthcare-related, machine learning based on what he is seeing in the field. This event is part of our One Book program on I, Robot by Isaac Asimov.

The Intelligence on A.I.

“NAO” by Erik Arlen is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Have you seen the upcoming events for our One Book program? Over the next couple months the program will explore the expanding world of artificial intelligence. Get ahead of the robot invasion with the following books and videos from our collection.

Looking for fiction?

Machines Like Me: And People Like You

Set in an alternate 1980’s London, two people work together to create a personality for a synthetic human. A love triangle ensues and leads to questions about what makes us human. 

Looking for non-fiction? 

A Human’s Guide to Machine Intelligence : How Algorithms are Shaping our Lives and How We Can Stay in Control

“Kartik Hosanagar surveys the brave new world of algorithmic decision making and reveals the potentially dangerous biases to which they can give rise to as they increasingly run our lives.” (From the book jacket)

Interested in medicine?

Deep Medicine : How Artificial Intelligence Can Make Healthcare Human Again

“’Deep Medicine’ shows us how the awesome power of AI can make medicine better, and reveals the paradox that machines can make humans healthier–and more human.” (From the book jacket)

Looking for a thriller?

Ex Machina (Streaming Video)

“A young programmer is selected to participate in a ground-breaking experiment in synthetic intelligence by evaluating the human qualities of a breath-taking humanoid A.I.” (IMDb.com)

Looking for a romance? 

Her (Streaming Video or DVD)

“In a near future, a lonely writer develops an unlikely relationship with an operating system designed to meet his every need.” (IMDb.com)

Want to binge watch? 

Westworld: Season One (DVD)

“’Westworld’ is a dark odyssey about the dawn of artificial consciousness and the evolution of sin–exploring a world in which every human appetite, no matter how noble or depraved, can be indulged.” (From the publisher)


Right-hoofed Horses Don’t Win Races

 

Are you right-handed or left-handed? I’m a rightie, which is a pretty good thing to be for us humans. About 90 percent of humans are right-handed and we’ve built our world to favor that majority. Many things end up being more cumbersome if you are left-handed, since humans use hands quite a lot.

What about animals? Do they exhibit signs of handedness? Even ones that don’t use or even have hands? As it turns out, some animals do. Most horses have a preference for right-front, hind-left. This means that most horses prefer turning left and that is why horse races are run counter-clockwise. Marsupials are interesting. It seems that the ones that walk on all fours don’t show a preference for handedness. But, the ones that hop on their hind legs, like kangaroos, do show sidedness and most are lefties.

What is even more interesting is that some bees seem to exhibit a “handedness” preference when flying. About half of studied bees don’t seem to care either way and deal with obstacles going either to the left or to the right. But the other half seem to care quite a lot and will put up with greater hardship to stick to their preferred side.

You can read more about animals and handedness in the article “Bee Sides” in the February 2018 issue of Scientific American magazine. To find out more about handedness in humans these books from our library collection will come in handy.

Event Video: Science & Computer Science in the Argonne Leadership Computer Facility

We are excited to share the video from this week’s STEM talk from computer scientist Ben Lenard. His talk focused on supercomputers at Argonne National Laboratory’s Leadership Computer Facility which help  solve problems within the world, from physics to medicine.

Ben is responsible for overseeing the administration and improvement of database systems in the ALCF’s supercomputing environment. These databases are critical to many of the facility’s support services, including job scheduling, job accounting, and business intelligence. In 2016, Ben deployed the IBM Data Server Manager to help streamline database administration tasks. With this tool in place, Ben has a better idea of how the databases are being used, while developers have an improved method for identifying and addressing any performance issues with their queries. In addition to his day-to-day responsibilities, Ben has been strong advocate for the ALCF and for computer science, volunteering for events like the Hour of Code and Argonne’s public open house. He is also currently pursuing a PhD in Computer and Information Sciences at DePaul University. Prior to Argonne Ben worked in the financial services industry for 13 years as well as academia for 2 years.

Science & Computer Science in the Argonne Leadership Computer Facility

The audio of this discussion is available below:

The Big Fake Out: Why Do we Fall for Fake News?

Our world of seamless information sharing and low-attention spans make it easy to spread news stories that are entirely fabricated. An entire industry of fake news sites has emerged generating advertising revenue for their owners. How do preexisting beliefs make us fall victim to outrageous stories? Why can’t we make rational decisions when it comes to evaluating information? How do our Why can’t we resist sharing articles that confirm our views? A panel of faculty members from philosophy, sociology, and psychology discuss these questions.

The Big Fake Out: Why Do we Fall for Fake News?

The audio of this discussion is available below:

Three’s a Crowd?

Were there 5 million people at the Cubs rally downtown last week? Everyone agrees that there were a lot of people there, but just how do they decide on a number? One estimation method was developed by journalism professor Herbert Jacobs in the 1960s. The method is described by msnbc in an article that discusses estimating crowds and some recent historical gatherings. And in 2011, Popular Mechanics magazine talked about some of the science behind crowd estimation.

 

Where are all of the aliens? Fermi’s Paradox & Colonizing the Galaxy

In the video below, novelist and physicist Alastair Reynolds offers some thoughts on colonizing the galaxy. He notes that given the vast size of the galaxy it would take about 3.75 million years to colonize the entire galaxy. This is longer than humans have been in existence. But, it is actually not too long considering that the galaxy works on a scale of billions and billions of years.

In this talk, Reynolds asks us to think about the Fermi Paradox, which basically asks, “if there are aliens out there, where is everyone?” Why haven’t they shown up yet?

Alastair Reynolds – Asking the Biggest Question: Fermi’s Paradox

If you’d like to read more, take a look at these titles in our collection:

Aliens : can we make contact with extraterrestrial intelligence?
Life beyond Earth : the search for habitable worlds in the Universe
Life in the universe : expectations and constraints