But AmoebaMike, what else do I need to know about taxonomy and evolution?

In order to standardize names of organisms, back in the the 1700s, a Swedish botanist named Carl Linnaeus developed a two-name system. Referred to as, binomial nomenclature, it is the system with which we use–even still today–for naming organisms.

Carl von Linné, Alexander Roslin, 1775.
Scientific Hottie
Carl Linneaus,
Image via Wikipedia

The word binomial means “two names.” So it is by using two names that we fully name each organism, in the same way that you have both a first and a last name. In binomial nomenclature, the first of the two names indicates the genus name. A genus is a group of closely related species. The second name is the species name; often it is a Latinized version of a word that describes a trait of the species, a location where the species can be found, or even an influential person in the discovery or science of that particular species. See the accompanying image.

Click for full size

Finally, you need to know how organisms are classified. Scientists try to make maps, or trees, called cladograms to show the relationship between different species. It used to be that organisms that were organized in cladograms based on physical similarities the species shared with one another. For example, as the name implies, the horseshoe crab looks like a crab.  In fact, it’s actually more related to spiders than it is to crabs!

Now that science has advanced greatly in the past half-century or so, cladograms are built using information scientists gather from DNA and RNA sequencing.  We’re finding out that like the horseshoe crab, some things we thought were related aren’t really all that close!  Have you ever heard of a panda or a koala being referred to as panda bear or koala bear?

Bears are members of the family Ursidae.  The bears you think of when you hear the term “bear”, like the grizzly bear and the polar bear are in genus Ursus.  Ursus is one of the genera of family Ursidae. Pandas are members of family Ursidae, but their genus is Ailuropoda. So they’re technically bears!

Koalas share the same class as the bears, Mammalia.  That’s as close as they’re related.  Koalas aren’t bears any more than dogs or whales are bears.

One last note: as you see in the image, the proper way to discuss a species is using the full name and italicizing it. The genus name gets capitalized, but can also be abbreviated by the first initial. For example, koalas would be Phascolarctos cinereus or P. cinereus and pandas would be Ailuropoda melanoleuca or A. melanoleuca.

Science Cards – Two Great Women

After a slew of business trips and a broken piece of software, I’ve finally got the latest–and last*???–science cards for you!

First up is Marie Curie, the first person honored with two Nobel Prizes!  Best known for her work as a pioneer in radioactivity, Curie had a distinguished career that included isolating radioactive isotopes, discovering two chemical elements (she even had one named after her!) and working to cure cancer with radiation. Continue reading

Science Cards – No Catchy Subtitle This Time

I spent 8 out of 9 days on the road since the last time I posted a science card.  So you’ll have to give me a bit of a break on the lack of a catchy subtitle.  Feel free to come up with one of your own and make me feel bad for how easy it was for you to think of.

(If this is your first experience with my science cards, here’s the brief synopsis: cards that include a “legend” are made up by me.  In most cases, the current scientists are providing their own info to me.  When reading a star rating, 1 star is indicative of the level in which normal mortals reside.) Continue reading

Science Cards – The Hermit & The Hottie

While the other big name reputable science bloggers are writing about poop today, I present a new pair of science cards.

Actually one of the most famous people in the world at one point, our first scientist had hermit tendencies–especially later in life. [src]   Nikola Tesla didn’t invent electricity–that was nature–but he certainly found new ways to use it. An engineer, physicist, and prolific inventor, Tesla has his name on a unit of measure, museum, currency, car–just about everything short of a pair of Nike! Continue reading

Science Cards – Galileo & Scicurious

With a little help from Bora, the first iteration of my new science cards did wonderfully last week.  So this week, I cover my eyes and hope to have even more luck:

First up is Galileo.  What did he do? Oh well, just looked at the Milky Way through a telescope and said that objects of the same size and shape (but different masses) fall to Earth at the same rate.  You know, and a bunch of other important stuff… enough that he’s considered by many to be the father of modern science. Continue reading

Sex(ism) in Science

‘Round the blogosphere the past few days there has been an interesting dialogue about sex in science and more to the point, sexism in society.

Seems a guy named Luke who runs an atheism blog, put together a list of “sexy scientists.”  I first heard about it when well-known, respected–and yes, beautiful–scientist Sheril Kirshenbaum tweeted, “Should I be offended? Would you be? Hmmmm…” when she was included on the list.

Ms. Kirshenbaum promised a response on Monday (today) and over the weekend hundreds of comments were made on various blogs and via twitter about the sexy scientist list.  In the meantime, I asked or read the thoughts of a few other women.

The only other woman on the list I heard from, commented on the original post.  Abigail Smith, who blogs over at scienceblogs, only had 1 unapproving remark to make, “thats a crappy pic of me, LOL!” Continue reading

The Pluto Files

While in Dallas for a few days over 4th of July at the National Federation for the Blind’s 2010 national conference, I read a short book that I think you’ll really like.  Written by my favorite living scientist, Neil deGrasse Tyson, The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America’s Favorite Planet (find this book) is the story of America’s love for Pluto which reigned as most beloved planet in our night skies for 76 years.  Of course, Pluto is still the most beloved celestial object, but 4 years ago it was stripped of its planetary status.  The Pluto Files follows Pluto from discovery through demotion.

Neil with Pluto

Pluto was discovered by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930 at the Lowell Observatory.  Before it was discovered, it was predicted to exist based on Neptune’s orbit and was known as Planet X, which may be familiar to you if you are a fan of old-school Merrie Melodies cartoons.  About a year after it’s discovery and naming, the name Pluto was also given to a relatively new character in the world of Disney.

As technology advanced, scientists learned that there were other objects in our solar system that were even bigger than Pluto!  All of a sudden, a decision needed to be made: introduce these objects as full-fledged planets or give them their own class and put Pluto in there with them.

As a very public figurehead of the first mainstream exhibit to not put Pluto next to Neptune, deGrasse Tyson was soon hated by the American public who didn’t want to give up what they held as constant in their life, i.e. that there are 9 planets.  The IAU, which is in charge of naming celestial objects, eventually debated and voted on the fate of Pluto, as well as Eris (which is larger than Pluto), Ceres (which was at one time considered a planet), a few others that have been found and probably more yet-to-be-found.  The IAU came up with a definition for a planet, and Pluto didn’t fit the bill.  Instead of promoting Eris and Ceres, both, along with Pluto, were given dwarf planet status.

People protested, sent hate-mail, and refused to follow the new rule.  The Pluto Files is a great account of atmosphere at the time.  PBS aired a good companion piece, which you should watch too.  It can be viewed on PBS’s website or instantly from Netflix.

Neil deGrasse Tyson

Supplementary materials for this post are as follows:
@ScienceGoddess swoons over #sciencehottie Neil deGrasse Tyson with her video review.
Short, humorous clips from The Pluto Files.
Live action/animation of an explanation for Pluto’s demotion.
A song by popular folk-indie artist, Lisa Loeb, about 11 planets.
Neil deGrasse Tyson on Twitter and Facebook.

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