Biotech: future of digital storage is plant DNA

Biotech: future of digital storage is plant DNA

If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.– Marcus Tullius Cicero Now the garden can be the library. Researchers at the University Medical Centre Maribor, Slovenia have encoded digital information into plant DNA. So what? you might ask. Oh; it is wild: in a box of seeds, you could have all knowledge ...
Axolotl – the salamander that never is

Axolotl – the salamander that never is

Axolotl. Ambystoma mexicanum. What is it? It belongs to the salamanders, but. A salamander is a creature that has some properties and life history. Your garden-variety salamander starts life as an egg, larvae, tadpole, metamorphosis, adult salamander. After metamorphosis the creature is an adult, crawls up on land and reproduce. That is the idea. But there ...
"Obsessions make my life worse and my work better"

“Obsessions make my life worse and my work better”

Sagmeister is a bit of a rock star in design. His project "Obsessions make my life worse and my work better" is of course mad and stunning. 250.000 EuroCents, eight days and more than 100 volunteers resulted in this crazy, beautiful sentence I can relate to. They left the work unguarded. And here is the hilarious ...
Biomimicry: generative art of @inconvergent

Biomimicry: generative art of @inconvergent

@inconvergent is a guy who makes magical, beautiful art with algorithms, heavily influenced by nature. In my endless ignorance, I did not think those two things could combine quite like that. I have of course seen wonderful things that nature do, like the amazing life of slime moulds, the murmuration of sterlings, the underground filaments ...
Morocco, Tyrian purple, Phoenicians and snails

Morocco, Tyrian purple, Phoenicians and snails

CORRECTION: the green powder is not from the sea snail. The more I thought about it, the less sense it made. Hours of research threw up Gentian violet. And though this is far, far less interesting, it has the benefit of being true. I will leave this post as it is, though, as the story of Tyrian ...
Ressurecting the naturalist

Ressurecting the naturalist

Scientists don't pick flowers. They collect specimens. – myself :) Resurrecting the naturalist: Few people will identify with the term "naturalist". A lot of people love nature, go for walks, strolls, hike; do a little gardening. Gawking at majestic scenery; snowcapped mountains, endless deserts, dense rainforests. Munching on strawberries. Strawberries are not berries, by the way. Coffee ...
Luidia sarsi: sea star magic

Luidia sarsi: sea star magic

Here you are, minding your own business, and you come across a sea star (marine biologists will stab you in the hand with a fork for calling it a starfish). An orangy-white, five-armed rather unremarkable fellow, you might think. And you would be so, soooo wrong. Luidia sarsi turns sexual reproduction upside down. You might think: mammy-sea star, ...
14 Meters of Aztec Codice

14 Meters of Aztec Codice

The Codex Borbonicus (or Codex Cihuacoatl) is a divinatory almanac inscribed in a single 14.2m long sheet of bark paper. A masterpiece of Aztec style, the codice is believed to have been made after the arrival of the Spanish. Its first section is an intricate divinatory calendar, one of the few surviving. Each page represents one of the 20 trecena or 13-day periods, ...
Synthetic diamonds are for forever too

Synthetic diamonds are for forever too

– Synthetic diamonds are real. – Of course they are, I can touch them. –No, really real. They ARE diamonds. Geddit? They are structurally, chemically e-x-a-c-t-l-y the same as what comes out of the ground. They are lab-created. Lab "grown"; or nicer: cultivated gemstones. So the ruby IS a ruby, the emerald an emerald, the ...
Audubon's birds, up for grabs

Audubon’s birds, up for grabs

Audubon's birds have been released to Public Domain! John James Audubon's book Birds of America is usually listed among the rarest books in existence. The reason for this is that the French ornithologist used the laborious technique of hand-coloured etched and aquatint plates, which means that there only about 200 complete sets done. A set fetched £7.3m at auction ...
Collective delusions: pareidolia, religion and invisible pink unicorns

Collective delusions: pareidolia, religion and invisible pink unicorns

This site is pretty much dedicated to the things we see, touch, record and create. But there are plenty of things people "see" that are not there. In troubled individuals, we call it delusions, hallucinations and we medicate. If enough people "see it" (and construct elaborate narratives around it) we call it religion. To see the face ...
Blasphemous Theories About the First Americans

Blasphemous Theories About the First Americans

The ice bridge through which the first American settlers came from Asia was neither made of ice nor a bridge. And according to new evidence, it might have not been the only way in which the continent was populated. Previously dismissed blasphemous theories about the first Americans are enjoying a come-back, and it's finally time ...
The Painted Skulls of Hallstatt

The Painted Skulls of Hallstatt

In the town of Hallstatt there is an Ossuary called Beinhaus, or Bone House. Places of second burial were not uncommon in the Eastern Alps, but Hallstatt is special: It contains  the most remarkable collections of painted skulls, anywhere. The Beinhaus is located in the basement of the Church of Saint Michael, which stands high above ...
The Great Exhibition of 1851

The Great Exhibition of 1851

I was once walking around Crystal Palace Park, waiting for a movie festival to begin, when a man approached me and my friend and asked us if we had seen the dinosaurs. We were confused at first, but he quickly pointed at some massive and frankly strange-looking sculptures that were spread around the park. Only ...
The fabric of Africa

The fabric of Africa

In 2012, the New York times published an article called "Africa's fabric is Dutch". And although there is currently an intense relationship between African consumers and traders, the story of African textiles goes well beyond Vlisco's double-sided, wax-printed cotton fabric. This fantastic short article made me realize that the image of the "naked African" is one too common, ...
A creationist's toybox: The Acámbaro figures

A creationist’s toybox: The Acámbaro figures

In July 1944, a German merchant named Waldemar Julsrud announced he had discovered several thousands ceramic figurines in Mexico, representing everything from supposed dinosaurs to peoples from all over the world. Julsrud had an impressive collection: Over 32,000 original pieces. You can see a few of them here: When I read about this story, I was instantly ...
Celebration of Snails

Celebration of Snails

This article title is absolutely on point. About a year ago, I started a post but just filled in the headline. Naturally, I completely forgot about it until Bente asked me about the draft. What I didn't tell her was that by then I had no idea what the original intention had been, but I was pretty sure it wasn't ...
The network II: drawing meets laser

The network II: drawing meets laser

The network II: drawing meets laser: I made a drawing I told you about n another article, the network (it does not mean anything). The department head in my research group at uni expressed an interest in doing something lage scale on a rather empty wall. A fellow student took the idea and ran with ...
The art, design and architecture of birds

The art, design and architecture of birds

What is architecture? What is design? What is art? Conscious choices. Some kind of cognitive processes that says "naaah. that doesn't work" or "fabfunfantastic!" That is what bowerbirds do. I came across them for the first time as a child. A newspaper we subscribed to used to run a small "interesting-facts from the natural-world" section in a hidden ...
Maria Sibylla Merian: illustrating the natural world

Maria Sibylla Merian: illustrating the natural world

Maria Sibylla Merian (1647 – 1717) was a remarkable woman in many ways. She was a very talented scientific illustrator and had a passion for insects. According to David Attenborough, she contributed immensely to taxonomy in entomology and the understanding of metamorphosis, and she was the first person who travelled on purely scientific grounds. Though she was ...
Gorgeous ammonites

Gorgeous ammonites

Ammonites are amongst the most popular fossil, and they have every right to do so. These beautiful spiral creatures are somewhat related to octupuses and squids, the only difference being that they went extinct 75 million years ago, along with the dinosaurs. When ammonites originated, they were planktonic and tiny. Less than 1mm tiny. As they ...
Calamityware: disaster porcelain

Calamityware: disaster porcelain

Here at the visual squirrels, we are not in the habit of promoting stuff, but Calamityware is simply too funny. Taking the classic language of cobalt and porcelain decoration, the artist Don Moyer adds – well – calamity. Volcanoes, robots, tentacles, and all manner of funny creatures hide in the china. The only problem with ...
Elin's bubbles

Elin’s bubbles

My friend Elin is turning out to be quite the photographer. To my delight, her work is turning increasingly abstract, and her latest batch is of frozen bubbles. What fascinates me is the sense of spindrift in the crystalline structures. And the ephemeral nature of it; of ice, water, air. Delicately frozen in time, frozen in ...
Human Evolution Infographic

Human Evolution Infographic

I made this infographic to show the (current state of things for) human evolution. Or quite current, because there have been some new discoveries, but they are still being debated. Feel free to download, distribute and change it, but please don't crop my name off it as it took me a long time to make it! Licence ...
Doodling maths: Visualising prime numbers

Doodling maths: Visualising prime numbers

Prime numbers are a cryptographer's dream: It's easy to take two very large prime numbers and multiply them, but it's extremely hard to do the opposite. There is no fast algorithm (yet) to factorize an integer into its prime factors, if you try to factor a large prime number you'll have to try every possible number between 2 ...
Ultraviolet Flowers, Infrared Trees

Ultraviolet Flowers, Infrared Trees

As humans, we have a very reduced visual spectrum. We can only catch light within certain frequencies, as Newton demonstrated this by dividing light using a prism (a beam of light contains the colors of the rainbow, because colours are wavelengths - the longer wave we can see is red, followed by orange, yellow, green, cyan, blue, and violet, the shortest wave. Whatever falls outside ...
Games that do science

Games that do science

When the internet was fairly new, a project without precedent set itself to push the limits of what seemed then inconceivable for both science and technology.  It was called SETI@Home, and it marked the beginning of a completely new era. SETI's goal was to detect intelligent life outside Earth. To do so, the project collected a ...
The New Tangram Book

The New Tangram Book

Puzzles have always fascinated me. Language puzzles, escape rooms, logic problems. When I code, I tend to see the coding problem as a puzzle that I need to solve. Especially CSS feels like that lots of the time. Recently, I dove into my parent's bookcase and fished up this old jewel: This 70s book is ...
Hostile architecture – how dare you be homeless?

Hostile architecture – how dare you be homeless?

This is an old post once posted elsewhere: brought it here when Twitter user @olebjarkoy took a pic of spikes outside a hotel in Norway, tagged it with #hostile. The hotel replied, on Twitter asking him to remove the hostile tag, as it was negative. Does not take a genius to figure how that went down ...
My geologic timeline in the magazine Science & Vie!

My geologic timeline in the magazine Science & Vie!

A long time ago I made a geologic timeline as a (vector) brush in Illustrator, with .ai and .eps files free for anyone to use. The only thing I ask is that if you use it, let me see the result. Making the timeline was incredibly time-consuming and ludicrously fiddly. So, a while ago I got ...
Historic photos of New Zealand's Kauri wood bloom

Historic photos of New Zealand’s Kauri wood bloom

When I was living in New Zealand, one of my favourite walks was just up the road, to one of Auckland's many natural reserves. You only needed ten or fifteen minutes to get to the top of a small hill. On it, a beautiful Kauri tree solemnly awaited. The sight was impressive, a giant among its normal-sized ...
Here be Dragons

Here be Dragons

You have probably heard the expression, and most likely associate it with images of old maps covered in drawings of sea serpents and other mythological creatures. But what are exactly those creatures living on the margins, and how did they get there? Pack your bags and jump on board. But aware, though, for Here be Dragons. Despite its popularity, there ...
Sensory homonculus

Sensory homonculus

Sensory homonculus: of all nonsensical stuff I have made, this sensory homonculus is up there. Stoneware clay, watercolour, acrylic paint ...
The tree house dwellers of Papua

The tree house dwellers of Papua

The Korowai people, inhabitants of Guinea, have become famous for three reasons. First, there are no records of the group having contact with Westeners until 1974, when anthropologist Peter Van Arsdale and a group of researchers led and expedition to the south bank of the Upper Eilanden River. Second, the Korowai have been reported to practice ritual cannibalism, although there are suspicions this ...
Thomassons: extinct architecture

Thomassons: extinct architecture

The 99% invisible is a brilliant podcast. I was alerted to the so-called Thomassons. These are architectural artefacts who have lost their function, but, and this is crucial: are still being maintained. For – essentially – no reason whatsoever. It is surprisingly hard to find images that exemplifies it. What I find fascinating, is the ...
Islamic art and the patterns of the infinite

Islamic art and the patterns of the infinite

It's difficult, if not impossible, to determine what exactly encompasses Islamic art. The term is not specific to a religion, place, time or even a field, and instead spans over 1400 years and receives influences from Roman, early Christian, Byzantine and even Chinese art. Although some think Islamic art is a false concept, the similarities between pieces of the Islamic world ...
A-maze

A-maze

Listening to the QI No such thing as a fish podcast, I was alerted to the story of a Japanese girl, while clearing her caretaker-fathers stuff, found this amazing work. Apparently, he spent seven years doing this. I doff my hat. You can buy a print - more on this story here ...
Medieval menagerie: the battle between knight and snail

Medieval menagerie: the battle between knight and snail

In a lot of medieval manuscripts, there are depictions of knights fighting snails. No one seems to know why this is. There are some theories, but so far nothing really conclusive. It might look like some sort of insider thing, maybe among scribes or illuminators. I love that sort of thing: mysteries in plain sight. Delightful ...
You know you want one: science nerd merit badges

You know you want one: science nerd merit badges

Out of the generosity of the Order of the Science Scouts of Exemplary Repute and Above Average Physique I have been allowed to recreate their science nerd merit badges. You can find the indexed list here, or you can go directly to my Cafépress profile. No, this will not in any way make me rich and/or famous, ...