Life is a self-sustaining network of chemical reactions. A living system produces its own components from basic food sources in such a way that these components maintain and regulate the very chemical network that produced them. Based on this notion of life, several models of minimal living systems were developed during the 1970s. While these models captured an essential aspect of the organization of living things, however, they could not directly explain how such systems emerged from a primordial soup of basic chemicals.
Read the full story in The Scientist…
Being prepared for disasters, whether natural or man-made, is of course a good thing. But it seems that the global efforts for preparedness are suddenly getting to an extreme this year. From terror attacks to asteroid impacts and, yes, alien invasions, several large scale training exercises have been or are being held this year. Sounds suspicious? Judge for yourself…
In 1711, a man by the name of Hans Thönen left the small village of Frutigen in Switzerland, and traveled by boat along the Rhine river to The Netherlands, where he settled in the town of Kampen. He was not the only one though, as he was part of a large enforced migration. However, the reason this particular person is worth mentioning is that he turns out to be one of my ancestors.
Holland is a very flat country without any mountains or rocky areas. Yet in the northern part of this little land you will find megalithic structures with big boulders, some weighing more than 20 tons, stacked on top of each other. For a long time, the purpose of these structures and the origin of these boulders was a mystery. And even though archaeologists now have a better understanding of these dolmens, or “hunebedden” as they are called in Dutch, many of the questions surrounding them remain only partially answered.
“Evolution is just a theory.” This claim, often made by creationists, is clearly based on a confusion of the scientific meaning of the word “theory” with its meaning in common language. We can forgive confused creationists, though, as most of them unfortunately know very little about science (all the more important it is for us to explain our research in a clear way). However, when scientists themselves make such mistakes, perhaps we should be less forgiving.
Read the full story on Sciworthy.com…
The Jura Mountains, in the north of Switzerland and extending into France, are a relatively small but very pretty mountain range. With a highest elevation around 1700m, at first sight they do not seem as impressive as the neighboring Alps. However, they actually hold several hidden treasures. The Gorge de l’Areuse is one such treasure. Read more
Just thought this was a nice picture: my current computing set-up at home. New laptop (left; with external keyboard & mouse) for regular work, old laptop (right) to connect with the computer cluster at the university, and meanwhile watching live snooker (UK championships) on my tablet (middle).
In the meantime, a whole bunch of computers in the large computing cluster at the university are also cranking away for me, but those are in some university building on the other side of town. Unfortunately they didn’t fit into the picture… 😉
I just listened to the new Pink Floyd album The Endless River. I’ve always considered Pink Floyd as one of the most interesting, innovative, and creative bands of all time, especially their stuff from the 70s. But alas, those days are gone, and I can’t say I’m very impressed with their latest (and probably last) album. There are two things I do like about The Endless River, though. Read more
Language is something we take for granted; we use it every day and could not live without it in today’s world. However, languages are not static but, rather, evolve. While the differences between American and British English are manageable, for example, reading Shakespeare in its original form poses some challenges — and reading the original Beowulf is almost impossible. Like biological species, languages change over time and sometimes “speciate” to give rise to several descendant languages.
Read the full story on NPR 13.7 Cosmos & Culture…
Chamonix (France), at the foot of the highest mountain in the European Alps, is the perfect base for all kinds of outdoors adventures. Hiking, mountain biking, paragliding, and mountaineering in summer, and skiing, snowboarding, sledging, and snowshoeing in winter. Even the less adventurous can have a full view of the Mont Blanc, with its peak at 4810m altitude, from the center of town. Add to that the many cable cars that take you more than 1000m up above the valley floor in just a few minutes, and you have a complete adventure package, for every level of interest and ability. Read more
Last week I received an email announcing that NESCent will be closing its doors in June of next year (2015). This will certainly be a big loss for evolutionary science and education. Read more
They call it “the pearl of the southwest” (the city of Santa Fe), in “the land of enchantment” (the state of New Mexico). Both, in my opinion, are still an understatement. Read more
[Note: This post is a modified and updated version of my earlier guest commentary on NPR 13.7 cosmos & culture]
For a long time, the origin of life was not considered a scientifically relevant problem. In fact, it was believed that life arises spontaneously all the time. Only after Louis Pasteur’s experimental demonstration that all life comes from other life, and the publication of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection (both around the middle of the 19th century), did the ultimate origin of life become a scientific question. However, it took (almost) another century before the first real scientific steps towards actually solving the problem were taken. Read more
Having been stuck at home for most of July, due to unseasonably wet weather, the forecast for the first week of August finally looked quite promising. So I decided to head out to the tiny little village of Arolla, located at 2000m (6600ft) altitude near the upper end of a long and beautiful valley in southern Switzerland. Read more
Standard economic theory assumes that humans behave rationally and are able to objectively calculate the value (or cost) of the different choices they are presented with. In fact, we pride ourselves on our rationality. Different from the animals, we humans have the unique capacity for logical thought and rational decision making. Or do we?
Read the full article on NPR 13.7 cosmos & culture…
Shortly after the crash of Malaysia Airlines MH17, there were many “conspiracy theories” going around on the internet. One of the more bizarre claims that were made, is that the plane that took off from Amsterdam was not the same as the one that crashed in Ukraine. This claim was mostly based on a picture posted on facebook, shortly before boarding the plane, by Cor Pan, a Dutch passenger on that fateful flight. Read more