Archive August 2011

HTML5 + molecular visulations = win aimee whitcroft Aug 16


Today I was looking into HTML5 (as one does), when I came across an incredible site: CANVASMOL.

canvasmol screenshot

(click to enlarge)

HTML5 is the newest incarnation of HTML (the language in which large bits of the web are written*).  What has people extremely excited about it is that one no longer needs to embed things like video players in website if one is writing in HTML5.  Such functionalities are built in.  Which is why Apple devices don’t currently support, for example, (Adobe’s) Flash.  They say.

And I’m going to leave that there, as it’s a very thorny nest of thorns :)  Also, it’s not the point of this post – other people have written much about it, and a simple search should suffice to sate your…well, curiosity :)

_Anyway_.  CANVASMOL!

A very cool site allowing one to have a look at a variety of different molecules.  In different ways (and one can compare a few at a time, too!).  One can also upload new ones, of course, because one never spend too much time getting wiggly happy fingers over such things. To change the view of a molecule, simply play with the letters/acronyms (beginning X Y Z, which control rotation) at the bottom of the square containing said molecule.

The screenshot above shows oxytocin, which is most famously known as being one of the ‘bonding’ neurotransmitters which are responsible for us feeling all loved-up.  In romantic or parental ways, as well as others.  Hell, I’m pretty sure the Ragdoll cats* belonging to friends of mine cause teh production in humans of ridiculous amounts of the stuff (plus their being high on it constantly).

The others are all fun, too.  I always find looking at buckyballs*** and graphene particularly oooohsome, of course.

Love it.  The site, that is.  Stunning use of in-browser stuff. Wish I’d had things like this when I was studying molecular biology :)


* Huge oversimplification

** The first truly domesticated cat, in which all those feral/killer instincts have been replaced with pure Cuddly.  It’s ridiculous.

*** For a pretty cool explanation of a 120-cell, which is basically a 4 dimensional shape made of 120 dodecahedra (a buckyball is a dodecahedron), see this animation.  Oh, also – behold!  A video tutorial on made a buckyball _out of origami_.  Because you know you want to.

How deep is the snow at your place? aimee whitcroft Aug 15


The NIWA peeps are well curious about the nigh-on unprecedented amount of frozen precipitation (read: snow) falling all over NZ.

snow!  greta point, looking towards the harbour(ish)

snow! greta point, looking towards the harbour(ish)

In Wellington, and as we speak: it’s snowing _in_ the CBD and also at sea level (Greta Point, for example).  This is pretty darned unusual*.  And the scientists are keen to get some data, from all of you, all over New Zealand!  Herewith the blurb:

How much snow is there at your place?

In real life I’m a hydrologist, and we don’t often get good data in New Zealand on snowfalls at low elevations. So I thought I’d try the internet!

If you want to, I’d be really interested to know how deep the snow is (and when you measured it), and which suburb/area you live in (& perhaps a post code?). I got a really helpful response in July 2011 – thanks everyone :)

Here’s one of my observations:

9.5 cm (average of 10 readings)
1030am on 25 July 2011
Burnside 8053

For me, the most interesting thing is the _average_ snow depth, rather than the deepest snow drift.

There is lots of detailed guidance on how to do scientific snow measurements, but here’s the simple story:

Be careful! Snow and ice surfaces are very slippery. Your safety is more important than data collection.

Put a ruler vertically into the snow down to the ground level, and read off how deep the snow is. Do it ten times, and take the average (or the median, if you have a lot of variability and enough time to sort your data).

Try to choose places that are typical. Not in the middle of snow drifts or valleys. Not right next to a building or fence.

If there are several days of snow, try to take measurements every day, during fine spells when it has stopped snowing.

If you are feeling ambitious, you might want to measure snow water equivalent too:

Measure the depth of snow at the place where you are going to sample the snow water equivalent

Find an old saucepan (or similar cylinder) with straight sides, and measure its (inside) diameter

Press the upsidedown saucepan vertically down into the snow until you reach the ground (snow may need to be compressed into the pan – that’s ok)

Pick up the saucepan and most of the snow should come with it. Pick up any snow that falls out and put it in the pan.

Melt all the snow in the pan, and measure the volume of water (e.g. with measuring jug).

Report back these pieces of information: Depth of snow (mm), diameter of pan (mm), volume of melted water (millilitres), Date, Time, Location

If you’re interested, the snow density in % units is the volume of water divided by the original volume of snow (typically in the range 10%-40%)

e.g. Depth of snow =180 mm, Diameter of pan =200mm, volume of melted water = 1620 mL. Snow volume is 5655 mL (=.001*180*Ï€*(200/2)^2). Density = 100*1620/5655 = 29%

For more help or detailed information, see

PS: be very careful outside – only go where you feel safe.

There’s also a facebook group, available here.

So, go out!  Measure things!  Be a _part_ of science!  Post your measurements on the FB group or here as comments :)


Related posts:

Waiology: Crowd-sourcing for snow depth data


* Climate change, anyone?

How people in science see each other aimee whitcroft Aug 11


Enough said, really :)


(click to enlarge)

Are _you_ in science?  Would you agree/disagree?  If so, how?

HT our very own Alison Campbell, for sharing this…

spacepr0n: the Discovery’s cockpit aimee whitcroft Aug 08

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A quickie, but a fantastic one nonetheless.



During its decomissioning, the Space Shuttle Discovery had one of those cool 360 degree virtual photos done, which means one can browse around the cockpit* and look at everything.  As if you were there, but minus the uncomfortable spacesuit.

Discovery was the third shuttle to join NASA’s fleet – it did so in 1983 – and had such awesome achievements as being the shuttle which lifted the Hubble Space Telescope into space.

After spending some 352 days in space over the course of its career, Discovery’s final flight – STS-131 – took  science racks to the International Space Station.  It was retired in March 2011, a few months before the shutdown of NASA’s space shuttle programme.

Click on the image above to go have fun.

Related posts:

Stunning video of STS-131 launch


* read: fantasise happily about pressing ALL the buttons.

And HT @rambling_matt for the link :)

Mining the moon aimee whitcroft Aug 04


This popped up in one of the legion of email newsletters I generally fail to do anything other with than skim.

YouTube Preview Image

It’s a video in which Barney Pell (successful entrepreneur and former NASA engineer) pitches the new venture with which he’s involved – Moon Express – and why going to the moon makes economic sense.

In a nutshell?  Minerals, including platinum.  If you’re interested in the short, 2 min pitch, it’s available on the Forbes website (I’d embed it here, but can’t, so meh).

But yes, it’s an interesting concept!  I’m not an engineer of any sort, so I’d be very interested to hear what other people think of the idea.

To get you started, I found these two articles, as well:

Lunar platinum and alcohol fuel cells

Mining The Moon: Closing The Business Case

And now: floor open!


On a completely separate note, also came across this today: an hilarious cartoon showing the difference between how the public _thinks_ science is carried out, and how it actually is.  It’s funny, ’cause it’s true…

Introducing a new blog: ariadne (a foresight blog) aimee whitcroft Aug 02

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Honestly, what is there to say at this point? Sciblogs just keeps getting more awesome.

ariadne v3

The newest foal to be welcomed to our fold is Robert Hickson, who will be penning the fantastically classically-named ‘ariadne: a foresight blog‘.

He’s going to be doing a spot of foresighting. Some scrying, sort of. Focusing primarily(but not exclusively) on emerging science- and technology-related issues, and particularly as they apply to New Zealand.

Robert, welcome. We’re thoroughly looking forward to this :)

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