All posts by LL

Mooning About: Cassini Turns 10

cassiniNASA’s Cassini mission celebrated its tenth year last week by releasing images of the solar system’s preening beauty, Saturn, and its fawning entourage of moons and rings. Eagle-eyed researchers spotted “moonlets” plowing through the delicate rings and reported the results in this week’s issue of Nature.

The moonlets measure just 30 to 70 meters across, but most of the debris in the rings measures less than 10 meters, so the moonlets leave a traceable wake. Saturn’s rings vary in thickness from about 100 meters to slightly more than 1 km.

In the image, Epimetheus (116 km across) floats just above Titan (5150 km), the largest of Saturn’s moons. The light-colored streaks in the ring may be caused by moonlets. The dark-colored section in the middle of the ring is the 325-km-wide Encke gap, probably caused by a gravitational resonance.

Cassini has mapped 60% of Titan’s northern hemisphere, which is home to lakes, rivers, and seas of liquid methane and ethane. The southern half is slated to be mapped next.

Originally appeared in Science Magazine as a Random Sample: [html] [pdf]

Reality Check: U.K. Report Reveals Variety of Career Paths for Ph.D.s

Wondering what to do when you finally finish your Ph.D.? You’re not alone. One source suggests that a mere 20% of British Ph.D. students have a clear idea of what to do next. The Higher Education Statistics Agency has been trying to shed light on the places U.K. post-graduates end up by surveying them the January after they graduate. In September, the Careers Research and Advisory Centre (CRAC) published a report analyzing trends from 2004 to 2006.

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Psyching Out the Fruit Fly

Fruit fly brains are useful for studying genes implicated in neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Getting at them, however, requires messy dissections that can damage tissue. Now, a new technique may offer a hands-off peek into the miniature mind of Drosophila.

A team led by Leeanne McGurk of the Medical Research Council’s Human Genetics Unit in Edinburgh, U.K., takes flies bred with genetic markers that make the nervous systems fluoresce (blue, in photo) and bleaches their exoskeletons, making the bodies translucent. Optical projection tomography reveals the 3D structure of the organs and allows researchers to virtually slice the flies’ brains on any axis, the authors report online on 5 September in PloS One. The procedure may one day be automated, collaborator Liam Keegan says, and–with better resolution and longer-lived fluorescence–could make hand-dissection of fruit fly brains a thing of the past.

Originally appeared in Science Magazine as a Random Sample: [html] [pdf]

A Karolinska Doctoral Candidate Learns the Joys of Business Ownership, Research, and Fatherhood

Mohammed Homman is in no hurry to defend his dissertation. It’s not because the Karolinska Institute doctoral candidate needs more time to write or perform a few more experiments. Nor is it because he needs to be home most days by 5 p.m. to help his wife, Maria Homman, who heads her own research and development lab at Akzo Nobel, care for their two daughters. Homman is taking his time to finish his degree because he’s busy wooing investors, hiring researchers–some of them with their own doctorates–and establishing business partnerships. Finishing his degree just isn’t his highest priority right now.

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