November 11th marks the 65th anniversary of the publication of The Two Towers, the second book in J.R.R. Tolkien’s famous Lord of the Rings trilogy. Central to the story are the Hobbits, peaceful, large-footed people of short stature that love the comforts of home.
Most people accept that Middle Earth and its inhabitants are fantasy, but there’s some scientific evidence that hobbit-like people might have been real. In 2003 scientists discovered a hominin, or species related to humans, that was small in stature. Named Homo floreisiensis and nicknamed “the hobbit”, whether or not this fossil find is a distinct species has been hotly debated among scientists since its discovery.
There’s also some evidence that a volcano was partially responsible for the disappearance of the species and that Komodo dragons might have seen them as prey. Where have I heard a story like this before?
Scientists have found evidence that H. floreisiensis created and used tools, but there’s no word of any gold rings found at any of the archaeological sites. If there were, the find would be precious...
Check out some of the other ways science honors Tolkien’s works. Feeling nostalgic for the films? We’ve got them! Want to research our human relatives? Try our Science databases!
I’m not going to lie, the snow certainly has some nerve to arrive this early in the season. But since it’s here, we should look at the chemistry behind snowflakes. Let’s learn some SCIENCE!
Hey, where are you going? This is cool, I promise!
According to the American Chemical Society, all snowflakes start as a humble dust particle encased in ice and are individually shaped by the temperature and environmental conditions as they fall to the ground. It’s the variety in conditions that lead to the incredible differences seen in each flake.
Researchers have even developed a camera that takes multi-angle photographs of single snowflakes in free-fall to produce 3D images and measure fall speed. Understanding snowflake mass, diameter, and fall speed can improve cold weather forecasting models.
Individual snowflakes might seem harmless, but when they get together they can really pack a punch. Scientists studying earthquakes in California found that accumulated snow and water can deform the earth’s crust, leading to increased seismic activity. That’s some powerful snow.
In this talk, Dr. Rush outlines how cyber attacks against critical infrastructure can impact the supply of gas, water, and electric grids. Cyber-attacks are usually thought of as directed against information, such as compromise of passwords, access to financial information, or theft of information. The focus of this talk is on the need to increase the level of protection on critical infrastructure. The issue is viewed from the attacker’s point of view and outlines the physical impacts of a successful attack. This event is part of the STEM lecture series.
The universe we live in is approximately 14 billion years old and has undergone many phases of transformation. The exact laws of its structure and formation remain largely unknown to us. One way to understand them is to re-create the conditions of the early universe when the matter was very dense and hot. This can be achieved in our days using high energy particle accelerators and colliders. In this talk I will present big questions particle physicists are facing today and explain how we try to address them using the data from accelerators, such as the Tevatron at Fermilab and the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. This talk is part of the STEM Lecture Series.
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!
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.
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.
“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)
“’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)
“The Voyager mission was only supposed to last four years. But four decades after the launch of Voyager 1 and 2, the spacecraft are still sending back messages from the farthest reaches of the final frontier.”
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.