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World Schizophrenia Day

Schizophrenia is the most persistent and disabling of the major mental illnesses, often attacking people aged between 16 and 30.

Common symptoms of schizophrenia include delusions, hallucinations, illusions and thought disturbances. Movement disorders may appear as agitated body movements including repetitive movement or, in the other extreme, catatonia.

While the causes of schizophrenia are not yet well understood, experts agree that it is most likely caused by a combination of several factors including genetic predisposition, environmental conditions and differences in brain chemistry and structure.

Because the causes of schizophrenia are still unknown, treatments focus on eliminating the symptoms of the disease. Treatments include antipsychotic medications and various psychosocial treatments.

With early treatment and good medical care, the symptoms of schizophrenia can be reduced or even eliminated. Many people suffering from schizophrenia still lead regular lives, have jobs and maintain healthy relationships.

Support from family and friends is critical in the management of schizophrenia. Patients benefit enormously when their families, friends and colleagues understand the illness and are suitably educated about ways to provide help and support when needed.

(Source: National Institute of Mental Health,

Voices are the most common type of hallucination in schizophrenia. Many people with the disorder hear voices, either talking to the person or to each other. Other types of hallucinations include seeing people or objects that are not there, smelling imaginary odors, and experiencing sensations like invisible fingers touching their bodies when no one is near.
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Weaving magic

Today we celebrate the birth of Paul Moody, American inventor and mechanic of textile machinery, born in Massachusetts in 1779. At age sixteen Moody learned the weaver’s craft, and soon became a weaving expert.

After years perfecting his skills in the textile industry, he arrived at the Boston Manufacturing Company textile mill at Waltham, Massachusetts in 1814, where he oversaw the factory operations. Moody is often credited with developing and perfecting the first power loom in America. He was also responsible for other innovations in the weaving industry such as the “dead spindle” spinning apparatus. By contributing a substantial number of patented improvements in textile machinery, Moody played an important role in the advancement of the industry.

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At the CSIR in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, natural fibres like wild silk, spun from the cocoons from the African wild silk moth, are being used to create sustainable and technologically advanced new fabrics.
Processing of the cocoons into fabric involves a chain of modern processing equipment. The silk fibre, obtained from the cocoons through a long silk fibre staple spinning process, has to pass through a number of processes to be converted into finished fabric. The resulting fabric has a rich natural honey colour and is woven to produce a durable and luxuriously soft fabric.
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International Day for Biological Diversity

Marine Biodiversity is the theme for this year’s International Day for Biological Diversity (IDB).

Counting Life in the Sea

Between 2000 and 2010, scientists worldwide took part in a groundbreaking collaborative venture known as the “Census of Marine Life”, to quantify marine biodiversity.

More than 2500 scientists from 80 nations participated in activities ranging from surface seawater studies to deepwater probes, from the arctic waters to the tropics.  Around 1200 species were added to the known roster of sea life, and more species are still being investigated.

The estimate of the total number of known marine species has now reached about a quarter of a million.  However, in its final report the Census team suggested the actual number could in fact exceed a million, so there’s still a lot of discovery awaiting anyone venturing into the field of marine biology!

It’s not only marine biologists who are inspired by marine biodiversity. This marine-themed graffiti mural graces a wall in Rotorua.
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The father of brain waves and the EEG

Today we celebrate the anniversary of the birth of German psychiatrist Hans Berger, born on 21 May 1873.

In 1924, Berger succeeded in recording the first human electroencephalogram (EEG). He devised a system of electrodes which he attached to his son’s skull, and connected to an oscillograph. This produced a recording of brain waves – the rhythmic changes in electric potentials.

Doubting the significance of his achievement, it took him five years to publish his first paper.  This 1929 publication demonstrated the technique for “recording the electrical activity of the human brain from the surface of the head”.  Berger also discovered the alpha wave rhythm, known as “Berger’s wave”.

Berger’s EEG experiments involved a system of electrodes attached to his son’s skull, which enabled him to produce a recording of brain waves using an oscillograph.
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Weights and Measures Day

20 May is Weights and Measures Day, the anniversary of an international treaty, signed on 20 May 1875, providing for the establishment of an International Bureau of Weights and Measures.

3-D full body scanning is a technique used to produce digital models containing exact individual body measurements. The scanning process captures an array of digitized points in three-dimensional space to produce a true-to-scale 3D body model.
The application of this technology range from medical applications (posture analysis, health and fitness management) to fashion (clothing design and virtual garment fitting).
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Shoe appreciation day

It’s a good day to show some appreciation for our good old mass-produced shoes!
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On this day in 1885, Jan Matzeliger, an African-American inventor in the shoe industry, began the first U.S. mass production of shoes, in Lynn, Massachusetts.

Matzeliger was born in 1852 in Paramaribo (then Dutch Guyana, now Suriname) to a Dutch engineer father and a Surinamese slave mother. After moving to Massachusetts in 1877, he went to work in the Harney Brothers Shoes factory. At the time, there was no way to mechanically attach the upper part of a shoe to the sole – it had to be done manually by a “hand laster”.  A skilled hand laster could produce 50 pairs of shoes in a ten-hour day.

He began work on designing a shoe-lasting machine, and after five years, Matzeliger obtained a patent for his invention in Mar 1883 (U.S. No 274,207). His machine could produce between 150 to 700 pairs of shoes a day, cutting shoe prices across the nation in half.

Sadly, Matzeliger died from tuberculosis soon after, which meant  he never saw the full profit of his invention.

Fascination of Plants Day

So today, 18 May 2012, is the first ever official “Fascination of Plants Day”, launched under the umbrella of the European Plant Science Organisation (EPSO).

In a way it is sad that there’s a need for an official day to get us humans to appreciate the many wonders of plants and the natural world around us. Expounding at length on the virtues of plants would fill volumes, so I’ll just touch on one aspect that leaves me forever fascinated.

Mathematical marvels

A feast of Fibonacci – this marguerite daisy flaunts its mathematical side by not only sporting 21 petals (a Fibonacci number), but also displaying some intricate Fibonacci spirals in the flower head.
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Plants are truly the physical embodiment of mathematical precision.  The more time we devote to the study of the mathematical structure of our flora, the more fascinating it becomes.  Ferns curve according to the golden section, fibonacci numbers appear all over the place, in the patterns of leaves, the number of petals on flowers, and the wonderfully intricate spirals appearing on flower heads. Then there’s the uncanny fractal structures created by veins of leaves, and beautifully displayed on the broccoflower.

So go on, spend some time in the garden – its good for you, not just physically, but mentally as well!

The lovely little Manuka flower. Not only does it provide another lesson in fibonacci numbers, with 1 stigma, 5 petals, 5 sepals and and 21 anthers, but its also a little medical miracle, source of an abundance of naturally-occuring antibacterial and anti-fungal constituents.
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Natural fractal patterns in the broccoflower.
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Even a garden thistle is a marvel of mathematical structure.
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Sciencelens’ first birthday!

Sciencelens is celebrating its first birthday today! What an incredible year it’s been.  My sincerest gratitude goes to all the individuals, companies and organisations I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and working with over the past 12 months. Thanks to everyone for your continued support and encouragement!

Science signs and technology tags

Second derivative

Considering these samples of ‘maths graffiti’ that I’ve noticed over the past couple of weeks, I can only assume politics, religion and culture are not the only forces driving today’s graffiti artists to pick up their spray cans.

Maths rule!

While these may be fairly basic, and not exactly on par with the mindblowing creations some graffiti artists are capable of, it did get me thinking about the role of graffiti in science communication – surely some good graffiti with a science theme can help to increase the  ‘coolness coefficient’ of maths and science?

So how about creating a science graffiti wall at a local University science building?  Even an entire building can very effectively be transformed through art and graffiti – just have a look at the campus building of The Learning Connexion (TLC) next time you’re in Lower Hutt, Wellington.

Mar-Eco graffiti in Brazil. Picture by Anette Petersen

Of course communicating science through novel artistic techniques such as graffiti is not new.  As an example, a Norway-based network of scientists and students called Mar-Eco ( have used graffiti as one channel in its quest to popularise international marine research.  As part of its public outreach work, a wall of graffiti displaying deep-sea species was created in one of the suburbs of Salvador in Brazil, with the hope of reaching an audience rarely targeted in the communication of science.

If you’ve come across any graffiti with a science or technology focus, please let me know – I’m very keen on expanding my collection of science graffiti images.

Tips for managing a digital photo library

A few years ago, before the advent of the digital photography era, many organisations went to great lengths to maintain and archive their collections of photographic slides and negatives.

These days, these physical collections may still be kept in an archive, but focus has moved to electronic image libraries – collecting, sorting and storing company images in digital format.

One of the big advantages of digital photo libraries is that, if a copy of the photo collection is kept online (for example on an ftp server), the collection of images is readily available for a wider audience in the organisation, and can be accessed from different locations.  This is very useful, in particular when an organisation has branches or satellite offices in different regions.  Staff can contribute to the library by uploading images, while also having access to the image library from any location.

While having an extensive and accessible library of professionally photographed images has many advantages, both to the organisation and to the individuals featured in these photographs, there are some issues that need to be kept in mind in maintaining such a collection.

FIrstly, it is critical that someone be given exclusive responsibility to organise and maintain the photo library, as the sheer volume of digital photographs that get produced in large organisations can quickly get out of hand.  Various software tools are available that allow the ‘image librarian’ to tag individual images according to a number of criteria, e.g. the area where it was shot, the person(s) featured in the photos, the event where it was taken, etc.  Photos can also be sorted into different folders according to various criteria, and older, out-of-date photos can be archived.

If the image library can be accessed from various locations and by various people, it is useful to limit general access to read-only, to avoid accidental damage to the photo library.  If different people are given write-access, a proper workflow system should be in place to keep things from turning chaotic.

Secondly, not all images are equal.  Often an organisation will have a collection of images that was commissioned with a very specific aim – to reinforce the company brand, and to support the key principles/values of the organisation.  These images may have been commissioned at considerable expense, to be used in key publications or promotional material, and the last thing you want is for the impact of the images to be diluted as a result of everyone using them.  As such, these “hero-images” should be ring-fenced and kept separate, made accessible only to the communications and marketing department, for example.

Another important consideration is that people images can get dated fairly quickly.  This applies to all people photos, whether they are generic stock images or photos of actual scientists, but in the case of actual staff, who are known and recognised throughout the organisation, dated images are more obvious and stand out more clearly.  For example, using images in your annual report featuring an individual who has since left the organisation, can definitely send out the wrong message.  Similarly outdated photos of key individuals can also result in confusing visual communication, especially if these photos do not represent their current activities/position in the organisation.

As such, effort needs to be spent to keep staff images current – removing (or at least archiving) photos of staff that have left, regularly updating current staff images, and commissioning profile shoots for new staff.

Certain members of an organisation, such as Board and Management members, as well as key scientists, who have a particularly high and visible public profile, need at least an annual profile update, ideally resulting in a diverse enough image library that the same image, or a limited set of images shot at the same time (with the individual sporting the same outfit in all the images), are not used over and over in public communications.

When I started out as a photographer, my biggest concern was getting the photos I took, out to the client as fast as possible, without worrying too much about managing the image library that I was building up.  However, after a couple of months, and some calls from clients requesting images that they’d misplaced, I soon realised the time spent finding specific images among the growing mass of images I had on my computer, was not worthwhile, and that I’d do better adopting a more formal image management approach.

So take it from me, as someone with thousands upon thousands of images to maintain – the effort you spend managing your photo library will be worth every cent of your investment.