Animals and physics, new book

This video says about itself:

Glamorous Indian Peacock

Discover the mating ritual of the Indian Peafowl!

From Science News:

‘Furry Logic’ showcases how animals exploit physics

Book chronicles use of light, magnetism and other phenomena

By Sid Perkins

8:00am, January 7, 2017

Furry Logic
Matin Durrani and Liz Kalaugher
Bloomsbury, $27

Warning: Furry Logic is not, as the title might suggest, a detailed exploration of mammals’ reasoning skills. Instead, it’s a fun, informative chronicle of how myriad animals take advantage of the laws of physics.

Science writers Matin Durrani and Liz Kalaugher cite a trove of recent (and often surprising) research findings. They draw on their backgrounds — Durrani is a physicist, Kalaugher a materials scientist — to explain how animals exploit sound, light, electricity and magnetism, among other things, in pursuit of food, sex and survival. These creatures don’t consciously use physics the way that humans design and use tools, of course, but they are evolutionary marvels nonetheless.

Peacocks, for example, produce low-frequency sounds while shimmying their tail feathers (SN Online: 04/27/16). The birds use these sounds — and not just the sight of those colorful plumes — to impress females and fend off competing males. At the other end of the sonic spectrum, some bats use stealth echolocation to track down their preferred prey. Moths targeted by these bats have sensors that can pick up these ultrasonic calls, but the bats squeak so softly that a moth can’t hear its stalker until it is less than a half-second’s flight away.

Durrani and Kalaugher let readers know when the science isn’t settled. Researchers aren’t quite sure how peahens pick up males’ infrasonic signals, for example. Scientists also haven’t figured out how the archerfish spits so precisely (SN: 10/4/14, p. 8), knocking prey off low-hanging branches above the water as often as 94 percent of the time. The submerged fish must somehow gauge the angle at which light bends as it enters the water and then accurately compensate for refraction while spewing a stream of water. Amazingly, this feat may be innate rather than learned via trial and error.

Readers need not understand the intricacies of polarized light, Earth’s magnetic field or surface tension to enjoy Furry Logic. Nor is this book an exhaustive account of the characteristics and behavior of every animal that uses such phenomena in interesting ways. There should be plenty of material for a sequel to this fascinating book.


2017 science news predictions

This video series from the USA says about itself:

Looking ahead to 2017 | Science News

20 December 2016

From CRISPR to Cassini, science stories on the horizon in 2017 won’t disappoint. We asked our intrepid beat writers what they’ll be looking forward to covering next year. Read more here.

Filming, Production & Editing
Helen Thompson

Additional Video & Images

Matt Heintze/Caltech/MIT/LIGO Lab
Caltech/MIT/LIGO Lab
ESO/Digital Sky Survey 2

McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT
Rita Elena Serda,/Baylor College of Medicine/NCI/NIH
Donald Bliss/NLM
Sriram Subramaniam/NCI/NIH
Betty Partin/CDC


Sarah C. Ogden/Florida State University, Tallahassee

Stephen McNally
Roxanne Makasdjian
UC Berkeley


“Climbing The Mountain” by Podington Bear
CC BY-NC 3.0

Top six science videos of 2016

This Dutch 30 December video shows what journalist Maarten Keulemans thinks are the best science videos of 2016.

Starting with #6, ants building a living bridge to cross water.

#5 bioluminescent marine animals discovered near the Mariana islands in the Pacific.

#4 chimpansees mourning one of them which died.

#3 a physics experiment about pressure.

#2 an electric eel jumping.

# 1 dogs having their brains scanned.

Some significant scientific developments of 2016: here.

2016 scientific discoveries, still unconfirmed

This video from the USA says about itself:

Planet 9 Explained and Explored with Astronomer Konstantin Batygin

27 January 2016

Planet 9 is the biggest astronomical “discovery” of recent memory, and the process of calculating its existence is revealed with astronomer Konstantin Batygin. When speculation of a large body of mass with an usual orbital alignment was detected, astronomers took to computer simulations, mathematical equations and a call to the public to discover the small gassous giant on the fringes of our solar system. Batygin breaks down this hypothesized planet that is estimated to be between 1 to 10 times the mass of the Earth, along with the Kuiper Belt, the discovery of Neptune, and why Dr. Mike Brown deemed Pluto no longer a planet in this episode of Antidote hosted by Michael Parker.


Coined the next “physics rock star” by Forbes, Konstantin Batygin immigrated to the U.S. from Russia at age 13 and currently works as an Assistant Professor of Planetary Sciences at Caltech. Batygin landed on the 2015 Forbes list of 30 scientists under 30 who are changing the world with an unprecedented record of publishing 21 papers as first author. He’s discovered planets in other solar systems and solved a centuries-old puzzle: yes, it turns out eventually the planets in the solar system will careen away from the sun. Batygin also plays in a rock band.

From Science News:

These 2016 stories could be really big — if they’re true

Some scientific findings this year made a big splash but require more evidence

By Cassie Martin

10:00am, December 23, 2016

These findings would have rocked the scientific world, if only the evidence had been more convincing.

New Planet 9 clues

A giant planet lurking at the outskirts of the solar system could explain the odd orbits of far-flung hunks of icy debris (SN: 2/20/16, p. 6). If the planet exists, its average distance from the sun would be between 500 and 600 times Earth’s distance (SN: 7/23/16, p. 7).

Signs of ancient life

Mounds of minerals discovered in Greenland appear to have been deposited by clusters of microbes 3.7 billion years ago. If so, these stromatolites represent the oldest fossilized evidence of life on Earth (SN: 10/1/16, p. 7).

Lucy’s big fall

A controversial study claims that Lucy, the most famous fossil in the study of human evolution, died after falling from high up in a tree (SN: 9/17/16, p. 16). The autopsy supports the hypothesis that Australopithecus afarensis split its time between the ground and the trees.

Nucleus with no charge

Researchers have spotted signs of a “tetraneutron,” an atomic nucleus with four neutrons but no protons (SN: 3/5/16, p. 10). If confirmed, this first-of-its-kind nucleus might be explained by a new, interneutron force.

How baby starfish eat

This video from the USA says about itself:

15 November 2016

Eat, Prey, Swim: Dynamic vortex arrays created by starfish larvae

William Gilpin, Stanford University
Vivek N. Prakash, Stanford University
Manu Prakash, Stanford University

We show the surprising flow patterns created by a starfish larva, which churns the water around its body as it searches for algae, its primary food source. These vortices are unique to many invertebrates, which often struggle to obtain sufficient nutrients during the early stages of their development.

Our video shows how millions of years of evolution have allowed the larva to master fluid physics in order to solve the unique dilemma of feeding at the microscale. But this innovation comes with a price: the vortices decrease the animal’s swimming speed, and thus its ability to change locations and escape predators. By studying how physical forces shape the adaptation of simple animals, we hope to uncover the subtle manner in which physics shapes evolution.

From Science News:

Baby starfish whip up whirlpools to snag a meal

by Emily Conover

12:00pm, December 23, 2016

A baby starfish scoops up snacks by spinning miniature whirlpools. These vortices catch tasty algae and draw them close so the larva can slurp them up, scientists from Stanford University report December 19 in Nature Physics.

Before starfish take on their familiar shape, they freely swim ocean waters as millimeter-sized larvae. To swim around on the hunt for food, the larvae paddle the water with hairlike appendages called cilia. But, the scientists found, starfish larvae also adjust the orientation of these cilia to fine-tune their food-grabbing vortices.

Scientists studied larvae of the bat star (Patiria miniata), a starfish found on the U.S. Pacific coast, by observing their activities in seawater suffused with tiny beads that traced the flow of liquid. Too many swirls can slow a larva down, the scientists found, so the baby starfish adapts to the task at hand, creating fewer vortices while swimming and whipping up more of them when stopping to feed.

Bird flight, new research

This video says about itself:

5 December 2016

Using a high-speed camera, scientists captured the swirling vortices produced by a slowly flying bird. Surprisingly, they found that the vortices rapidly dissipated. The unexpected effect suggests that scientists need to rethink methods for calculating the lift produced under such conditions.

From Science News:

Bird plus goggles equals new insight into flight physics

Unexpected vortices form in parrotlet’s wing wake

By Emily Conover

6:21pm, December 5, 2016

A bird in laser goggles has helped scientists discover a new phenomenon in the physics of flight.

Swirling vortices appear in the flow of air that follows a bird’s wingbeat. But for slowly flying birds, these vortices were unexpectedly short-lived, researchers from Stanford University report December 6 in Bioinspiration and Biomimetics. The results could help scientists better understand how animals fly, and could be important for designing flying robots (SN: 2/7/15, p. 18).

To study the complex air currents produced by birds’ flapping wings, the researchers trained a Pacific parrotlet, a small species of parrot, to fly through laser light — with the appropriate eye protection, of course. Study coauthor Eric Gutierrez, who recently graduated from Stanford, built tiny, 3-D‒printed laser goggles for the bird, named Obi.

Gutierrez and colleagues tracked the air currents left in Obi’s wake by spraying a fine liquid mist in the air, and illuminating it with a laser spread out into a two-dimensional sheet. High-speed cameras recorded the action at 1,000 frames per second.

The vortex produced by the bird “explosively breaks up,” says mechanical engineer David Lentink, a coauthor of the study. “The flow becomes very complex, much more turbulent.” Comparing three standard methods for calculating the lift produced by flapping wings showed that predictions didn’t match reality, thanks to the unexpected vortex breakup.

No new blog posts, will re-start soon!

This video says about itself:

Physics of Bird Migration

It is spring and we went to check out the migratory birds returning from their winter grounds. It is pretty incredible to think that some of them have crossed deserts and oceans on their journeys, and they still manage to find their way back to the same locations every year.

For example, did you know that the Arctic Tern is the World Record holder when it comes to migration amongst birds? It spends Northern Hemisphere summers in the Arctic and then for winter it flies all the way to the Antarctic!

Absolutely crazy to think that in one year it has seen more of the world than most of us will in a lifetime. In this week’s video we take a look at the physics behind a few of the adaptations that the birds have evolved to be able to perform these annual migrations. Enjoy!

Produced by: Jonas Stenstrom

Filming help by: Louise Fornander & John-Mehdi Ghaddas

For about a week, there will no new blog posts on Dear Kitty. Some blog.

Then, the blog will re-start with lots of inspiration about, eg, the migratory season for birds (autumn migration in this case); and many other subjects, as usually.

So, see you all again soon!