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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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