Top 10 Gifts for Scientists or Science Lovers!

It’s the giving season and there are lots of great gifts out there, but it seems ideas and decisions are in short supply. So I’m here to give some great suggestions for the scientist or science lover in your life! Based on personality type, here are the 10 best science gifts:

For the book lover, like Joanne Manaster, I recommend Wicked Bugs: The Louse That Conquered Napoleon’s Army & Other Diabolical Insects by Amy Stewart.

Flash Cards

For the mom, like Carin Bondar, I recommend The Nerdy Baby’s ABCs Flash Cards.

For the science writer that no longer sees the inside of a lab, like Ed Yong, I recommend a nice piece of art such as Petri Dishes 5 by the talented Michele Banks.

For the marine biology lover, like Christie Wilcox, I recommend Blue Planet.

For the star gazer, like Phil Plait, I would highly recommend the book The Pluto Files by Neil deGrasse Tyson.

For the kid at heart, like Brian Krueger, I recommend a plush or bobble head famous scientist.

For the bug lover, like Bug Girl, I recommend a handmade plush insect sculpture, like the ones by Weird Bug Lady.

For the fashion forward, like Michelle Clement, I suggest a nice piece of jewelry and recommend this piece: silver DNA earrings.

For the funny one, like Brian Malow, I recommend something wearable that says: not only am I funny, I want everyone to know so I’m wearing this shirt.

For the person who has everything, like no scientist I know, a great gift would be a membership to the local science museum!

Cell Division – An Intro

When cells grow, the run into a problem.  As the cell grows in size, their surface area to volume ratio changes.  As it turns out the higher the volume is in relation to the surface area, the more difficult it becomes to diffuse enough material into the cell.  Think of a city with 1 road.  As the town grows, the main road doesn’t change much.  Sure you may be able to add in a few extra lanes, but the town can grow rapidly in every direction but the road can only grow a little bit.  So when before a cell gets too big to function properly, the cell divides.

In order for both of the daughter cells (the new cells) to be able to survive and work properly, the cell needs to do a little prep work.  In eukaryotes like your venus fly trap, a wild capybara, and even you & me the process of dividing is commonly called mitosis.  More accurately, however, the process is called the M stage of the cell cycle.  In the M stage, two things occur, 1) mitosis, in which the cell’s chromosomes are divided and 2) cytokinesis, in which a cell’s cytoplasm divides in half.  (In prokaryotes, like amoeba, cell division is usually referred to as asexual reproduction, but it is still the same process.)  The actual prep work of division, though, occurs in the rest of the cell cycle.

The Cell Cycle

The cell cycle can be easily broken into two parts: 1) cell division, and 2) interphase.  A great deal happens in both of these parts of the cycle, so we’ll look at them separately.  Today I give you interphase.  Cell division will be in my next post.
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The Cell II

After covering the animal cell, I’d like to talk just briefly about a few other types of cells.  We’ll go over plant cells and prokaryote cells.

Plant cells

Plant cells are very similar to animal cells.  Major differences are that plants have a cell wall outside of their cell membrane.  The cell wall provides structure, support, and protection for the cell.  Plant cells also have chloroplasts which are an organelle used to capture sunlight energy and make glucose (food).  The chloroplasts are what give plants their green color; chloroplasts are filled with a green pigment called chlorophyll.  The last major difference is that plant cells tend to have one large, central vacuole (when present in animal cells, they are smaller) which serves to house waste and add structural support.

Prokayote cells

Prokaryotes, organisms without a nucleus (like bacteria), are even more different from plant and animal cells.  They also lack other membrane-bound organelles such as mitochondria and chloroplasts.  Prokaryotes tend to be unicellular, unlike plants and animals.  While they do have DNA, it is in the form of chromosomes you are used to seeing; it tends to be in simple circle or tangled-looking loop shape.

What is Life? II

To go just a little further in depth as to what we meant last time when we discussed the characteristics of living things, I wanted to make a follow up post.  I’ve been putting this off, but it’s time to bite the bullet.

  • All living things are made up of 1 or more cells.  Cells are the basic unit of life.  Most are smaller than you can see with the naked eye, but they are composed of different parts called “organelles” that work together to allow the cell to function and reproduce.
  • All living things reproduce.  Reproduction creates offspring, which are similar, but not identical to the parent(s).  Reproduction can be sexual (two parents) or asexual (one parent).
  • All living things are based on a genetic code.  Usually that code is DNA (but sometimes RNA in the case of some viruses, which remember are technically not living), which is a molecule that tells your cells what to do in order to function.  Essentially the genetic code is a set of instructions for your cells.
  • All living things grow and develop.  Some organisms simply grow larger and prepare for reproduction.  Other organisms may develop legs or wings for movement, or teeth for chewing, or breasts for feeding their young.
  • All living things obtain and use energy.  Just as you need food, so do plants, fungi, and even bacteria.  The sum of all chemical reactions to build up and break down materials is called metabolism.
  • All living things respond to their environment.  A stimulus is a signal to which an organism responds.  When you get pollen in your nose, you sneeze.  When soil is moist and warm, a seed germinates.  When you turn on a light, roaches run away!
  • All living things maintain a stable internal environment.  No matter what goes on outside the body, all organisms keep their internal conditions stable.  The process to do this is called homeostasis.  When you get cold, your body tries to keep your internal temperature from dropping too much.  So you begin to move involuntarily.  We call this shivering.  Likewise, if you’re too hot, you’re body sweats to cool you off.

Another Nobel in The Roundup

The 2009 Chemistry Nobel Prize was awarded yesterday for work on identifying ribosome structure.  Whether you’re familiar with them or not, ribosomes are huge (in biology and in life–but not in size).  Basically the ribosome “reads” the DNA and makes proteins.  If DNA is the recipe of life, a ribosome is the chef.

And if that’s of no interest to you, how about bugs? Incredible Insect Macro Photography came across my Twitter feed and I thought you’d love to see these amazing images.

If you’re not following me, obviously you should be.  But why should you read AmoebaMike when you could be keeping up with the Kardashians or following Taylor Swift? (Yes, I <3 Taylor too.)  I read lots of science tweets and distill the very best stuff that I think the average person would find interesting.

I’m trying out this PicApp thing. Thoughts?

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