Friday, March 21, 2008

Science Friday


A couple of science items today, because they fascinate me to no end.

Scientists have known for decades that male lab mice produce high-frequency sounds - undetectable by human ears - when they pick up the scent of a female mouse. But now it's been determined that male mice are actually singing. Audio recordings of the sounds, modified for human ears, reveal that the vocalizations are patterned songs, not random twittering.

The researchers recorded and manipulated the ultrasonic vocalizations to unveil a surprising complexity. They found that individual male mice sing their own distinct songs. The richness and diversity of mouse songs appear to approach that of many songbirds.

They appear to croon their own little tunes to potential mates, serenading them with songs. Isn't that the sweetest thing? Not in my own house, mind you, but out there somewhere, in the barn hay. If you want to hear a sample of the whistling twittery singing, and read more, go to this article.

Ever heard of the "golden ratio"? It is known as the Golden Mean, Golden, Section, and Divine Proportion. It is a ratio or proportion defined by the number Phi ( = 1.618033988749895... ). In all cultures, people judged to be beautiful have bodies that exhibit the divine proportion, or golden ratio, of 1 to 1.618. In beautiful humans, the golden ratio turns up all over - in the distance between the eyes relative to the length of the lower face, the height of a front tooth relative to the width of both front teeth, the length of arms relative to body height. No need to get out your ruler, just think Halle Berry - she's got the Divine Proportion from head to toe.

In mathematics and the arts, the golden ratio is everywhere. Ancient Greek mathematicians first studied what we now call the golden ratio because of its frequent appearance in geometry. The ratio is important in the geometry of regular pentagrams and pentagons. From Stonehenge, to the Acropolis, to the Pyramids, architects have used it for centuries in many of our most important buildings. Rennaissance artists (Leonardo da Vinci), Impressionist artists, even surrealist artists have used the golden ratio in their works.

But what makes this number even more interesting, is that it's found in multitudes of biological forms. From the spiral of a snail's shell to the markings on a tiger's head. From the most beautiful flowers, to leaf and seed arrangements of plants, to the structure of crystals. It's been found in movements in the stock market. The entire universe seems connected somehow by this mathematical abstract. I'm still trying to get my head around that.