Exploring a Biofluorescent Reef

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Explorers gear up for a night dive on the House Reef at Angel Island, Indonesia. 37.8600° N, 122.4300° W.

A setting sun darkens the surrounding islands of Komodo National Park, Indonesia, and while your typical diver is turning in for the night with a cold Bintang, we gear up. Explorers Club Flag Expedition #216 was not like the others. Fueled by our curiosity for the mysterious biological phenomena where blue light is absorbed by certain marine creatures and transformed into vivid shades of green, yellow, and red, this expedition blended cutting edge cinematography and science to capture some of the first-ever time lapse recordings of fluorescent anemones, corals, and bony fishes.

Put simply, our purpose was to film a fluorescent event on a coral reef, a sight best captured at night. These reefs have unique structures that enable them to glow neon red, green, and orange, a process known as biofluorescence. Unlike bioluminescence, a phenomenon whereby organisms produce their own light, when they want to, by way of a chemical reaction, biofluorescence is a passive process that animals can’t turn off and on and biofluorescence is not visible with the naked eye. It requires a blue-light and yellow filter over the eye, and it is best illuminated at night.

That means that with the right gear, we had a good chance of encountering a biofluorescent event. Oh and gear we had: GoPro cameras, retrofitted with an extended battery life and yellow lens, blue lighting systems, weights, tripods, and a homemade buoy made from plastic bag strips and sandals. The team had their hands full. Descending onto the reef, we place yellow filters over our goggles and turn on the blue lights. Suddenly everything is black, except for a select brain coral head and the occasional anemone which stand out in neon. —> Read More

Astronomy Cast Ep. 378: Rutherford and Atoms

Physicists knew the interior of the atom contained protons, neutrons and electrons, but they didn’t understand exactly how they were organized. It took Ernest Rutherford to uncover our modern understanding.
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Read the rest of Astronomy Cast Ep. 378: Rutherford and Atoms (46 words)


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Scientists Identify Universal Gene Required for Plant Growth at High Temperatures

A team of scientists, co-led by Dr Carlos Alonso-Blanco of the Centro Nacional de Biotecnología in Spain and Dr Sureshkumar Balasubramanian of Monash University in Australia, made the discovery after analyzing natural populations of the model plant thale cress (Arabidopsis thaliana). “Plants are highly sensitive to environmental changes and even small changes in temperature impact [...] —> Read More

What It Was Like to Glimpse John Nash’s Beautiful Mind

While finishing my dissertation at Princeton, I had the distinct pleasure of taking a seminar with John Nash. If you’ve read the book or seen the movie, A Beautiful Mind, you’ll know that Nash suffered from schizophrenia and this seminar was one of his first appearances since having brought that mental ailment under control.

Not knowing what to expect, most of us signed up just for the opportunity to spend time with Nash. He was a legend. Though we’d seen him as a shadowy figure that often lurked around Firestone library with a stack of paper scribblings, none of us ever spoke to him and we were curious about what a true genius might actually say.

Strangely enough, that didn’t make everyone on the faculty happy. I remember one game theorist telling me that taking Nash’s seminar would be a “distinct waste of time”. That was an ironic comment since Nash essentially “invented” game theory — non-cooperative game theory, in particular.

Non-coop game theory is the study of how individuals or institutions might interact strategically if they don’t communicate and Nash won the 1994 Nobel Prize for presenting the first, stable solution to such a situation. If you loved the films, The Usual Suspects or LA Confidential, for example, those plots demonstrated non-cooperative game theory in its great, Hollywood form.

Surprisingly, however, Nash didn’t speak about non-coop game theory. Instead he presented the work he’d been doing on cooperative game theory. Coop-game theory is about how groups of individuals might enforce behaviour to achieve certain outcomes. Just about every spy movie with a dastardly syndicate influencing its members involves coop theory.

Yet, what made Nash’s presentation amazing was his sharp mind and wit. He simply looked at things differently. His whole approach involved painting a picture of an idea — not simply —> Read More

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