Friday, December 13, 2013

Scirus Exitus

Scirus ( is (was) a search engine serving the scientific community. Elsevier's subscription-free portal “Scirus for scientific information only” was designed for open access of the scientific literature including databases such as Arxiv ( and NCBI's Pubmed ( and, in general, for documents under .edu, .org, .gov, as well as .com domains.

To ensure a smooth transition to alternative search solutions, the Scirus home page gives an early announcement of Scirus' retirement plan:

We are sad to say goodbye. Scirus is set to retire in early 2014. An official retirement date will be posted here as soon as it is determined.

Finding alternatives is never easy, once you have accustomed yourself to a particular service and its ins & outs. What might those alternatives be? Google Scholar for the Surface Web plus the diverse set of portals tailored to specific tasks and disciplines?

In chemistry, materials science and nanotechnology, for example, word-based text search has always been just one entry strategy to find documents, data and facts. In addition, the formulation of search requests by using compositional formulae or SMILES—special notations that allow substructure and similarity matching, supplementing string comparison—is routinely employed in data mining concerning chemical materials and molecular structures. The CurlySMILES language has been developed to annotate and communicate nanostructures. However, the success of such specialized formulation strategies depends on their priorly designated association with documents and their implementation into databases, archives, repositories and the World Wide Web.

In HTML5-based Web design, the integration of chemical microdata vocabularies such as Axeleratio's ChemId Vocabulary for chemical compound identification is a way to enhance the chemistry-aware Semantic Web. Encouragingly, the ThermoML project demonstrates that the cooperation between scientific institutions and journal publishers can set standards for open-access representation of data in a specific domain—thermodynamics, providing not only a base for task-driven data extraction, but also for chemical modeling as well as computer-assisted materials & process design

The science-oriented approach of Scirus stays alive—for everyone seeking scientific information! And the study and optimization of task-specific search strategies across language barriers is evolving into a science of its own.

Keywords: Scirus, Internet service, scientific search, semantic web, cheminformatics, data mining, content management, query formulation, search strategy.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Genoa in Nevada supposedly named after Genoa in Italy

Genoa seen from trail to Genoa Waterfall
Genoa was founded in 1851 by Mormon pioneers as a Utah Territory settlement (Nevada came into existence ten years later). It served as a trading post along the Emigrant Trail. By 1854 the Mormon Station, as it was called then, had a post office, a newspaper press, a school—and certainly a church and businesses [1-4]. The boundary between the Utah Territory and California was not yet clearly determined around that time. In 1854 Orson Hyde from Salt Lake City was sent by Mormon leader Brigham Young to survey the new Mormon frontier settlement. Billie Rightmire, Genoa town historian and fourth generation Genoan [3], writes that “Hyde changed the name of the surveyed town site to Genoa supposedly in honor of Christopher Columbus' birthplace, Genoa, Italy.

The original Mormon fort was wiped out by a fire (started to fumigate a bedbug-infested mattress) in 1910 and Genoa lost its seat of Douglas County to nearby Minden in 1916 [4]. Nevertheless, the present replica of the trading post attracts daily sightseers and the humble settlement turned into one of the most attractive little villages in the American West, surrounded by an expansive system of scenic trails (including the Genoa Waterfall Trail, Sierra Canyon Trail and Discovery Trail) as well as golf courses and cattle ranches such as the River Fork Ranch, now owned and operated by The Nature Conservancy to benefit people and nature.

Keywords: history, geography, American West, place name.

[1] Town of Genoa: Town springs up from '49er trading post [].
[2] Margo Bartlett Pesek: Genoa, Nevada's oldest town, offers scenery, lots of history. Las Vegas Review-Journal, July 12, 2009. [].
[3] Billie J. Rightmire: History of Genoa [].
[4] David W. Toll: The Complete Nevada Traveler. The Affectionate and Intimately Detailed Guidebook to the most Interesting State in America. Gold Hill Publishing Company, Inc., Virginia City, Nevada, 2002; page 90.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The science of appearance: phenology

Phenology is the scientific study of periodic biological phenomena, such as leafing, flowering, fruiting, breeding, migration and mutualistic interactions, in relation to climatic conditions and changing weather pattern [1-4]. Whereas many branches of natural sciences strongly rely on laboratory work and planned experiments, phenology is mainly done by outdoor observation, phenomena capturing and computational analysis. Kayri Havens and Sandra Henderson explain the term phenology in an American Scientist feature article about citizen science—past and present—as follows [3]:

Phenology literally means “the science of appearance.” The word was coined just a few years after [Henry David] Thoreau made his phenological observations, from the Greek phaino (to show or appear) and logos (to study). Phenology measures life cycle events, phenophases, in all living things. Plant phenophases are associated with leafing, flowering, and fruiting: first leaf, first flower and last flower, among others.

An inspiring aspect of phenology is that this multidisciplinary branch of science brings together professionals and amateurs with all kinds of interests and backgrounds, including trained scientists, educators, students, members of government and non-profit organizations as well as other citizens: together they participate—largely via Internet—in citizen science, also referred to as crowd-sourced science or networked science. For instance, the USA National Phenology Network (USA NPN) coordinates efforts of  researchers, students and volunteers with the goal to monitor the influence of climate on the phenology of plants, animals, and landscapes [4].

A variety of specific phenology projects have been established by a citizen science approach in North America and Europe: BudBurst [3], North American Bird Phenology Program, NatureWatch (Canada), Nature's Calendar (United Kingdom), (Ireland), Observatoire des Saison (France), Aktion Apfelblütenland (apple blossom initiative, Germany), Meteoschweiz (Switzerland) and Popek (Slovenia).

It is interesting to note that phenology projects are so much country-based, although by their very nature one would expect an organizational approach relying more on landscape type and vegetation zone.

Keywords: biology, climatology, ecology, citizen science, phenology programs and portals, Greek language.

References and more to explore
[1] The Free Dictionary: phenology [].
[2] Merriam Webster: phenology [].
[3]  K. Havens and S. Henderson: Citizen Science Takes Root. Am. Sci. Sept.-Oct. 2013, 101 (5), 378-385 [].
[4] The USA National Phenology Network [].

Monday, September 16, 2013

Lassen Volcanic's Loomis Museum named for Mae Loomis, daughter of photographer Benjamin Franklin Loomis

The historic Loomis Museum is located at the northwest entrance of the Lassen Volcanic National Park. It is also named Loomis Visitor Center. Together with the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center at the southwest entrance, the Loomis Museum belongs to the landmark buildings along the Lassen Park Road, which connects the two museums by winding through the park and providing access to interesting sites and trailheads including those for Kings Creek Falls, Bumpass Hell and Lassen Peak.

The Loomis Museum—originally called Mae Loomis Memorial Museum—is named for Mae Loomis, the daughter of Estella and Benjamin Franklin Loomis: the museum premises were the home of Estella and Benjamin, who donated it to Lassen Volcanic National Park in 1929 and named it in honor of their daughter, Louisa Mae, who died at age 20 during an an influenza epidemic in 1920 [1].

Today, the family name “Loomis” is mostly associated with Mae's father (shown in portrait), a native of Illinois, who came to Tehama County in the early 1860s and established a logging and lumber business in the Manzanita Lake region [1,2]. B. F. Loomis chronicled eruptions of Lassen Peak, a plug dome volcano, between 1914 and 1921. An interpretive panel summarizes the Loomis Legacy:
The enthusiasm, talent, and dedication of Benjamin F. Loomis helped bring a national park into existence. His legacy started with the photographs he took, which today still spark understanding and awe of Lassen Park's historic eruptive events. In 1926 he published the Pictorial History of the Lassen Volcano, to “give the sightseer a clearer idea of what has occurred.” And in 1927, in memory of their daughter, he and his wife Estella built the Mae Loomis Memorial Museum and Seismographic Station [...] to showcase Benjamin's photographic records and monitor ongoing volcanic activity. 
The panel further mentions that the Loomises retained the right to live on the museum premises, built an art shop there and spent their summers selling photographs and assisting visitors to the volcanic landscape. Mr. Loomis died in 1935 and Mrs. Loomis in 1953.

During the summer months, the Loomis Museum offers ranger-led programs, videos and exhibits related to Lassen Peaks's eruption history and Lassen Park's geology, including rock specimen such as the Bumpass Hell sulfurous andesite and Sulphur Works quartz-pyrite pseudomorph.

Keywords: traveling, history, photography, documentation, renaming, volcanic activity.

References and more to explore
[1] Dottie Smith: Travelin'n in Time: Images of eruption made name for Benjamin Loomis. October 28, 2010 [].
[2] Tim I. Purdy: Lassen Volcanic. Lahontan Images, Susanville, California, 2009; page 67.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Lassen Volcanic's Kings Creek and its waterfalls named for the King family of Shasta County

A waterfall in Lassen Volcanic National Park: Kings Creek Falls
The Kings Creek cascades and waterfalls belong, like the geothermal Bumpass Hell area and the  Lassen Peak Summit, to the most popular sightseeing and hiking destinations in Lassen Volcanic National Park, California. King is a very common name. All the Lassen Park landmarks with this name derive their designation from local residents and relatives: the King family including James, Jane and their son Oscar

Not much is known about the King family. They are figures of northern California's ranching history, as Tim I. Purdy tells us [1]:

Ranching interests also [in addition to mining interests] played a role in the region's early history. In the summer of 1860, Hiram Rawson of Red Bluff had 2,000 sheep grazing at nearby Battle Creek Meadows. Other livestock operators, primarily from Shasta and Tehama counties, found the region suitable for summer pasture. Among least known of these individuals were Shasta County residents James and Jane King, whose son Oscar was born in 1879 in the meadows that today bears the family's name. Information concerning their activities is marginal, in part because they never formally claimed or obtained a land patent to this property. Besides the meadows, a creek and a waterfall were named for them.

In a 2009 Red Bluff Daily News column, Jean Barton also referred to Tim I. Purdy's book “Lassen Volcanic” (and to his book “Lake Almanor”) [2]. She compared appearances of park sites, which she was visiting in 2009, with how she remembered them from earlier visits. Jean mentions the marginal information concerning the King's activities and writes about some of the King's contemporaries, who in their own way were going to make a living around Lassen Peak in the late 19th century.  

Keywords: history, genealogy, geography, place naming; Kings Meadows, Kings Creek, Kings Creek Falls.

References and more to explore
[1] Tim I. Purdy: Lassen Volcanic. Lahontan Images, Susanville, California, 2009; page 58.
[2] Jean Barton: The old and the new at Lassen Park. Red Bluff Daily News - Opinion, Aug. 22, 2009 [].

Friday, September 6, 2013

Northern California's Lassen Peak named for Peter Lassen, a Danish blacksmith and pioneer

Peter Lassen (1800-1859), a Danish blacksmith, came to California in 1840 just before before the onset of the gold rush [1-3]. Then, California was still “ruled” by Indians, Russians and Mexicans.  Lassen obtained the required Mexican citizenship to purchase land near the confluence of the Sacramento River and Deer Creek in today's Tehama County. He established the Bosuejo Ranch (meaning “wooded ranch” in Spanish), which also became known as Lassen's Rancho. He developed this site into Benton City with adobe buildings, a blacksmith shop and a store [2]. The recruitment of new settlers for this community from the east led to the exploration of novel routes over the mountain ranges into California. Towering Lassen Peak was and is a notable landmark seen from various sections of these emigrant trails.  

Being such a prominent mountain near Peter Lassen's property holdings, it does not come as a surprise that this volcano—now the eminent landmark and climber's attraction of Lassen Volcanic National Park—became finally named for the Danish-Mexican blacksmith-rancher. However, Lassen Peak's naming history is much more involved and colorful (wordful), what has been wittingly recounted by Tim I. Purdy [3]:

Lassen Peak is the most pronounced feature in the park. In 1827 it was the venerable mountain man Jedediah Smith who first named the peak Saint Joseph's Mountain, and for years it was referred to as such. Others, not knowing Smith's name for the mountain, called it Snow Butte. The Native Americans also had their own designation for the peak. By the early 1850s it was being referred to as Lassen's Butte, for the Danish entrepreneur of the region. Some individuals, however, not knowing the correct spelling of Lassen, called it “Lawson's Butte.” Over the ensuing decades it became known as Mount Lassen, and is still commonly referred to that way. When the mountain came into national prominence during its notable eruptions of 1914-15, it prompted the United States Board of Geographic Names to resolve the name issue. On June 2, 1915, the board officially named it Lassen Peak. But not everyone embraced the official designation. For example in 1917, when the peak had another eruption, E. W. Hayden of Susanville's Lassen Advocate wrote, “Old Mount Lassen (we'll call it Mount, if we want to) had another tremendous eruption of steam, smoke and ashes on Wednesday, and the display is regarded as one of the greatest since it came back as a volcano.”

The Maidu designation for the peak is Kohm Yah-mah-nee—the phrase after which the new visitor center at Lassen Volcanic's southern park entrance is named [4]. Here are the names for Lassen Peak again, listed roughly in chronological order of their coining: Kohm Yah-mah-nee, Saint Joseph's Mountain, Snow Butte, Lassen's Butte, Lawson's Butte, Mount Lassen, Lassen Peak

As a prototype of the western frontiersman, Peter Lassen is not only the namesake of the southernmost volcano in the Cascade Range, but of many other geographical landmarks and regions including Lassen Emigrant Trail, Lassen County and Lassen Volcanic National Park. Lassen Volcanic includes more scenic places with an interesting naming history such as Lake Helen and Bumpass Hell.

Keywords: eponym, place name, geography, history, historic vocabulary; emigration, immigration, settling.

References and more to explore
[1] Franklin D. Scott: Peter Lassen: Danish Pioneer of California. Southern California Quarterly Summer 1981, 63 (2), pp. 113-136 [Preview].
[2] Sierra Nevada Geotourism MapGuide: Peter Lassen's Grave (No. 565 California Historical Landmark) [].
[3] Tim I. Purdy: Lassen Volcanic. Lahontan Images, Susanville, California, 2009; pp. 37-41.
[4] Sierra Nevada Geotourism MapGuide: Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center [].

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Lake Helen in Lassen Volcanic named after the first white woman who ascended Lassen Peak

Lake Helen, Lassen Volcanic National Park, California
Lake Helen is an alpine tarn in the Lassen Volcanic National Park, California. This small lake is located northwest of the Lassen Park Road between the trailhead for Bumpass' mishap area and the trailhead for Lassen Peak (seen in the background of the photo above), said to be the world's largest plug dome volcano. Lassen Peak was scaled by surveying parties and tourist groups in the second half of the 19th century. One such group consisted of Pierson B. Reading, Kendall Bumpass, S. S. Thomas, and Aurelius and Helen Brodt, who climbed the mountain in late August 1864 [1]. Helen Tanner Brodt (1838-1908) became the first white woman to see the lake that was named for her and also the first woman making it onto Lassen's top [1-3].

In 1863, Mrs. Brodt moved from New York City, where she had been trained in art, to Red Bluff west of Lassen Peak. She lived as a painter and art teacher in Red Bluff, taught art in Oakland and exhibited her art at the Chicago Worlds Fair of 1893 [3].

Any person with an artistic instinct and a longing for nature must want to conquer the wild Lassen landscape by painting, hiking and sightseeing. Helen's husband Aurelius mentions the naming of Lake Helen in a letter to his mother. Tim I. Purdy has the story [1]: 

On August 28, they [the group] made the ascent to the top of the peak. Two weeks later, the Brodts journeyed to Susanville, where Aurelius Brodt wrote to his mother about his journey in the mountains, “Last week Helen and myself climbed and stood upon the very top of Lassen Peak, 11,000 feet above the level of the ocean. It was a thrilling adventure-we walked over ice and snow that had probably been there for centuries-we found a crater in active operation, sending up vast clouds of sulphurous steam making a deafening roar similar to an immense steam engine [Bumpass Hell]. We found a beautiful little lake near the top of the mountain which was named Lake Helen after my wife, she being the first woman that had ever seen it, also her name and date Aug. 28, 1864 is inscribed on the side of a large rock on the very peak, she being the first woman that ever ascended the peak.

Obviously, the lake name received approval. The 2013 Lassen park map gives an elevation for the summit of Lassen Peak that is somewhat below 11,000 feet:  10,457 feet (3,187 meter). We need to remember that the group climbed the volcano many years before its eruptions between 1914 and 1917. The ocean level has changed, too. I am not sure how accurate the elevation of Lake Helen and Lassen Peak was known at the time of Helen's and Aurelius' adventure.  

Keywords: eponym, place name, geography, history, summit climbing.

References and more to explore
[1] Tim I. Purdy: Lassen Volcanic. Lahontan Images, Susanville, California, 2009; pp. 48-49.
[2] Tracy Salcedo-Chourré: Hiking Lassen Volcanic National Park. Globe Pequot Press, Guilford, Connecticut, 2001; page 37.
[3] Women Artists of Mount Shasta: 1860s-1930s [].

Bumpass Hell in Lassen Volcanic named after Kendall Vanhook Bumpass

Bumpass Hell is a hydrothermal area in Lassen Volcanic, short for Lassen Volcanic National Park. This steaming, smelling, white-yellow crustscape of hot springs, mudpots, fumaroles and sulfur precipitations is named after ill-fated cowboy-prospector Kendall Vanhook Bumpass (1809-1885), who lost a leg here, while guiding a visitor to what he and his partner Pierson Reading had claimed on September 10, 1864, for mining purposes [1-3]. An on-site interpretive panel describes that event, originally published in the Red Bluff Independent newspaper:

Our guide [Mr. K. V. Bumpass], after cautioning us to be careful where we stepped, that the surface was treacherous, suddenly concluded with Virgil that the “descent to Hell was easy” for stepping upon a slight inequality in the ground he broke through the crust and plunged his leg into the boiling mud beneath, which clinging to his limb burned him severely. If our guide had been a profane man I think he would have cursed a little; as it was, I think his silence was owing to his inability to do the subject justice....
Editor, Red Bluff Independent, 1865

Tim I. Purdy has this version of the mishap [1]:

In September 1865, Bumpass acted as a tour guide for Watson Chalmers, publisher of the Red Bluff Independent. Upon arriving at Bumpass' mining claim, Chalmers wrote, “On turning the ridge all the wonders of hell were suddenly before us and the descent into hell was easy.” Bumpass warned Chalmers to be cautious while walking around the boiling mud pots, for the ground was not as stable as it appeared. Alas, that was exactly what happened to Bumpass on this visit, as one leg broke through the crust into the boiling mud. For relief, there was a nearby snowbank wherein Bumpass, using a handkerchief, wrapped his leg with the snow.

Bumpass Hell became a tourist attraction. Today, visitors of this hazard zone are guided over its thin, brittle and slippery ground via boardwalks to and between the bubbling pools and roaring holes. Warning signs such as the one below try to raise sightseers' awareness—so they will avoid Bumpass' fate and, instead, stay well in hell.

Mr. Bumpass, by the way, never came back to the fateful field to develop his mining claim.

Note: K. V. Bumpass' name is occasionally written with an uppercase H: Kendall VanHook Bumpass

Keywords: eponym, place name, geography, curiosity, incautiousness, accident, unfortunate experience, leg amputation.

References and more to explore
[1] Tim I. Purdy: Lassen Volcanic. Lahontan Images, Susanville, California, 2009; pages 48 and 53-54.
[2] Dottie Smith: Travelin' in Time: The scary wonder of Bumpass'. June 13, 2013 [].
[3] Wild Ink Press: {bumpass hell.} October 17, 2011 [].

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Eastern Brazil's muriquis nicknamed “charcoal monkeys”

Like hunters, soldiers and artists, after artificially camouflaging their face with sooty charcoal, muriquis show similar looking facial features due to their natural pigmentation. Their darkened, black or black-spotted faces inspired the Brazilian nickname “charcoal monkey” [1]. The muriqui is the largest New World monkey, endemic to tropical forests north and southwest of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil—the Atlantic Forest region [2]. Contrasting with their face color, muriqui's thick coat is grayish brown, often with a tinge of yellow [1-3]. Their fur and their expertise in navigating the canopy by air acrobatics resulted in their common name, or other nickname: woolly spider monkey.

In the late 1980s two distinct muriqui species were recognized: the northern muriqui (Brachyteles hypoxanthus) and the southern muriqui (B. arachnoides) [2,3]. Note the spider reference in the scientific name of the southern species. Steve Kemper summarizes the current classification and conservation status [1]:

Once called woolly spider monkeys, muriquis occur in two closely related species that scientists didn't officially split until 2000: northern (Brachyteles hypoxanthus) and southern (Brachyteles arachnoides). Both species live only in Brazil, in scattered remnants of the once-vast Atlantic coastal forest, now greatly reduced by clearing for pasture and agricultural land. Because of extensive habitat fragmentation, both muriqui species are classified as endangered, the northern one critically: Only 1,000 of them survive, spread across about a dozen patches of forest [...]

Muriquis are of particular interest in biology and anthropology, since they are capable of great behavioral plasticity. Muriquis display a social and sexual “life style,” that differs from the ruffian behavior observed with many Old World primates. Karen Strier has been studying the critically endangered northern muriqui since 1982. She applies a comparative approach to understand the behavioral ecology of primates, gaining new insights into population viability and making significant contributions to the competition versus cooperation debate in the science of evolution [1,4].

Keywords: primatology, biological anthropology, taxonomy, nomenclature; Animalia > Chordata > Mammalia > Primates > Atelidae.

References and more to explore
[1] Steve Kemper: No Alpha Males Allowed. Smithsonian September 2013, 44 (6), 38-43. [].
[2]  Encyclopedia of Life: Brachyteles hypoxanthus [].
[3] Encyclopedia of Life: Brachyteles arachnoides [].
[4] Department of Anthropology, University of Wisconsin-Madison: Karen B. Strier [].  

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

El Rio de las Plumas: Feather River

The Latin word pluma means “feather” in English. The Latin-derived English word “plumage” showcases the meaning of this root: the noun “plumage” refers to a bird's feather coverage.

The Spanish word for “feather” coincidences with the Latin word; the Spanish plural is plumas. Hence, el rio de las plumas means “the river of feathers,” or “feather river” for short. With a little imagination it can be translated as a “river with plenty of birds.” 

This imagination was reality in the first half of the 19th century, when early European explorers and gold-rush pioneers discovered and exploited the Feather River in northern California. During that time it got its beautiful name [1]:

The Feather River originally was named “el Rio de las Plumas” in 1821 by Spanish explorer Luis Antonio Argüelo for the multitude of waterfowl seen upon its waters. In about 1850, the name was anglicized to “Feather River.”

Several branches of the Feather River run through Plumas County [2]. It can be considered as Feather River County, but continues to stick with the Spanish name. Plumas County's Frazier Creek, for example, is a tributary of the Feather River: it flows from Gold Lake via the scenic Frazier Falls into the Feather River's Middle Fork by the resort town of Graeagle.

The Latin/Spanish word pluma also lives on in open-space and park names such as Plumas National Forest and Plumas-Eureka State Park, associated with the Feather River headwaters.

Keywords: geography, languages, etymology, place naming, anglicisation (anglicization), American history.

References and more to explore
[1] Plumas County, California GenWeb Project: A Brief History of Plumas County [].
[2] About Feather River Country [].

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

“Ebbett's Pass” or “Ebbetts Pass?”

Sign for Ebbett's Pass Trailhead along California State Highway 4
The Ebbett's Pass Trailhead is a gateway for hikers and horseback riders to the Pacific Crest Trail, connecting with scenic lakes as well as ancient volcanic peaks and rock formations on both sides of the Pacific Crest, including the Carson Iceberg Wilderness. The well-posted sign along California State Highway 4 in Alpine County, California, directs visitors to this trailhead and clearly says “Ebbett's Pass” (see picture). A historical landmark board uses the same writing and explains that this pass is named after Major John Ebbett, who, in 1853, suggested this location to surveyor George H. Goddard as a promising route for the Transcontinental Railroad [1].

Referring to the family name Ebbett, “Ebbett's Pass” is a correctly written possessive phrase. But why do we find the form “Ebbetts Pass” in so many documents?

Apparently, authors didn't simply got tired of including the possessive-indicating apostrophe. Instead, they refer to “Captain” John Ebbetts [2]:
It wasn't until 1850 when John Ebbetts—Captain of the Knickerbocker Exploring Party of New York—crossed this pass with a large train of mules, guiding a party of miners into the then gold-frenzied California.
A few years later, John Ebbett, let's call him John Ebbetts from now on, led a survey party for the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad Company to this high mountain pass in search of a possible route for the Transcontinental Railroad. His friend and lead surveyor George H. Goddard eventually named the pass Ebbetts Pass in honor of the “Knickerbocker pioneer” [2,3].

Referring to the surname Ebbetts, the genitive case seems to be dismissed: I haven't seen the writing “Ebbetts' Pass” or, worse, “Ebbetts's Pass.”

Keywords: grammar, spelling, writing, name places, history.

References and more to explore
[1] Wikipedia: Historical Landmark: Ebbett's Pass.JPG [].
[2] Sierra Nevada Geotourism MapGuide: Ebbetts Pass National Byway [].
[3] Judith Marvin: Ebbetts Pass History [].

Monday, July 22, 2013

A term in biology: constructive neutral evolution

The rise and evolution of novel, complex structures and operations in biological organisms is typically explained by processes involving random mutations followed by natural selection: complexity is emerging from environmentally driven, essentially non-random processes discovered by Charles Darwin and illustrated, for example, by Richard Dawkins in his book The Blind Watchmaker [1].

But is evolution completely directed by natural selection or do non-Darwinian factors (non-selective factors: chance, neutral changes, bio-molecular side effects) play a significant role? Currently, the possibility of constructive neutral evolution (CNE) is discussed [2-5]. The CNE idea opens additional routes in biological inquiry that allow the development of neutral models, which can anchor molecular-evolution studies—designed to explain complexity as well as biodiversity—on grounds free of a priori adaptionist explanations. The scheme of CNE will supplement or may revolutionize our understanding of the origin, direction and meaning of life. 

Carl Zimmer instructively put the origin of the term “constructive neutral evolution” into context [4]:
In the 1990s a group of Canadian biologists started to ponder the fact that mutations often have no effect on an organism at all. These mutations are, in the jargon of evolutionary biology, neutral. The scientists, including Michael Gray of Dalhousie University in Halifax, proposed that the mutations could give rise to complex structures without going through a series of intermediates that are each selected for their help in adapting an organism to its environment. They dubbed this process “constructive neutral evolution.”

Keywords: life science, evolutionary theory, neutral theory, neo-Darwinian thinking, evolutionary genetics, bio-molecular complexity.

References and more to explore
[1] R. Dawkins: The Blind Watchmaker. Penguin Books, London, England, reprinted (from the 1986 Longman publication) with an appendix 1991.
[2] A. Stoltzfus: On the possibility of constructive neutral evolution. J. Mol. Evol. August 1999, 49 (2), pp. 169-181 [].
[3] A. Stoltzfus: Constructive neutral evolutionary theory: exploring evolutionary theory's curious disconnect. Biology Direct 2012, 7:35. doi: 10.1186/1745-6150-7-35
[4] C. Zimmer: The surprising origins of life's complexity. Sci. Am. August 2013, 309 (2), pp. 84-89 [].
[5] Entropic Existence: Selection, Neutrality, and the Appearance of Design. April 23, 2010 [].

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Talus, meaning “rock debris” or “slope of rock debris”

Talus slopes around Castle Reak, northwest of Truckee

The word talus refers to rock debris at the base of a cliff, crag or valley shoulder. This word may also specify a slope covered with such rock debris [1,2]. In the latter case, one often speaks of a talus slope. A good example are the talus slopes below the south-facing cliffs of Castle Peak in the Sierra Nevada northwest of Truckee, California. The picture above shows Castle Peak seen from nearby Andesite Peak: concave talus slopes are skirting the cliffs keeping vegetation away from the upper mountain belt. The lower, less steep areas have some single conifers (survivors of rock slides). The forest begins where the slopes turn into a saddle and plateau topography, on the surface of which the impact of rolling rocks is becoming less powerful.   

Talus is created by weathering and fracturing of granite and other types of rock. Talus accumulates through periodic rockfall. F. J. Smiley, in 1915, briefly described the degrading process of Sierran mountain walls—while studying the Lake Tahoe region—and pointed out “the immense heaps of angular talus, which skirts the bases of Mt. Tallac, Maggie's Peaks and Castle Peak” [3]. 

A talus slope is always ready for a slide—triggered by an earthquake, an animal or a reckless mountaineer. Needless to say that a talus slope is dangerous terrain to walk across or to climb up or down on.

In addition to its meaning in topography and geology, the word talus means ankle or ankle bone in anatomy [1,2]. How the word and its meanings derived, is not completely clear. Old French, Latin or Celtic origins are typically mentioned. The plural form of talus is tali. Another word for talus is scree, probably from Old Norse skridha, meaning landslide [4].

Keywords: geology, etymology, synonyms.

[1] Merriam-Webster: talus [].
[2] The Free Dictionary: talus []. 
[3] F. J. Smiley: The Alpine and Subalpine Vegetation of the Lake Tahoe Region. Botanical Gazette April 1915, 59 (4), pp. 265-286 [].
[4] The Free Dictionary: scree [].

Monday, July 8, 2013

Acronym in scent detection and civil security: EDC for explosive detection canine

Explosive-sniffing dogs are trained and employed to detect hidden reactive substances with a destructive potential. Such dogs are called bomb dogs,  or—more formal—explosive detection canines (EDCs) [1,2]. They are becoming best friends of security officials and safety personal who are in charge of protecting public places and controlling conflict zones.

EDCs do not smell bombs. But they can be trained to be highly alert to the ingredients of explosive materials. At the MSA Security Training Academy, for example, odors of chemical vapors are imprinted on the olfactory cortex of the dog's brains—Pavlov-style by task repetition and reward [2]:

MSA's dogs begin building their vocabulary of suspicious odors working with rows of more than 100 identical cans laid out in a grid. Ingredients from the basic chemical families of explosives—such as powders, commercial dynamite, TNT, water gel and RDX, a component of the plastic explosives C4 and Semtex—are placed in random cans. In addition, urea nitrate and hydrogen peroxide—primary components of improvised explosive devices—have joined the training regime.

EDCs learn not to scratch a potentially threatening material or device (avoiding a possible blow-up), but to respond by just sitting down when they sense one. Today, EDCs at airports, train stations, stadiums, fairs and banks are not even noticed by travelers and visitors; and if, they are greated with a friendly look or smile. The simple presents of EDCs hopefully keeps people safe and threats away. 

Keywords: threat protection, chemistry, sensory system, dog's nose, Canis lupus.

References and more to explore
[1] MSA Security: Bomb Dogs [].
[2] Joshua Levine: The education of a bomb dog. Smithsonian July-August 2013, 44 (4), pp. 72-78 [].

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Silicene: a honeycombed, atom-thick sheet of silicon named to recall similarly structured graphene

Silicene sheets can be epitaxially grown on a close-packed silver surface, Ag(111), via silicon atomic flux under ultrahigh vacuum conditions [1]. The condensed atoms arrange themselves within a two-dimensional honycomb lattice, geometrically resembling the structure of carbon atoms in graphene sheets. Chemists like to indicate structural and functional similarity of compounds in the ending of their names:  hence, the name silicene, which rhymes with graphene.

Equal or similar topology, however, does not necessarily imply property similarity. So far, many silicene properties have been predicted rather than measured, since the graphen-like form of silicon proves hard to handle [2].  Whereas graphene is very stable, silicene is reacting with other molecules and materials in its neighborhood. Silicene sheets also show a tendency to crinkle. Yet, the interest in silicene, its properties and potential applications is rapidly growing [3-5].

And to continue with the analogy of chemical elements of the carbon group (Group IV or Group 14), germanene—the planar, hexagonal germanium allotrope—could then be the next thin sheet.   

The CurlySMILES notation for silicene is [Si]{alall=silicene}, in which the square bracket code (SQC) for silicon is annotated with al for atomic layer and all for allotrope. The analogous linear notation for graphene and germanene are [C]{alall=graphene} and [Ge]{alall=germanene}, respectively.

Keywords: inorganic chemistry, material science, nanotechnology, epitaxy, spontaneous organization, honeycomb lattice, allotropes.

References and more to explore
[1] B. Lalmi et al.: Epitaxial growth of a silicene sheet. Appl. Phys. Lett. 2010, 97, pp. 223109-223110. doi: 10.1063/1.3524215.
[2] G. Brumfiel: Sticky problems snares wonder material. Nature March 14, 2013, 495, pp. 152-153. doi: 10.1038/495152a.
[3] B. Feng et al.: Evidence of Silicene in Honeycomb Structures of Silicon on Ag(111). Nano Lett. 2012, 12 (3), pp. 3507-3511. doi: 10.1021/nl301047g.
[4] Z. Ni et al.: Tunable Bandgap in Silicene and Germanene. Nano Lett. 2012, 12 (1), pp. 113-118. doi:
[5] Foresight Institute: Silicene: silicon's answer to graphene [].

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Translating the names of chemical compounds and compound classes

Chemists are typically not trained as translators. The latter, on the other hand, often do not have a background in chemistry and materials science. The translation of chemical compound and class names can easily turn into a non-trivial task.

In some cases translation is a simple matter of dictionary knowledge and look-up. For example, the names of the so-called “standard amino acids, ” a set of  α-amino acids, display overall name consistency across languages (one-word names with the exceptions of aspartic acid and glutamic acid [1]): for a given molecular structure the linguistic root of an amino acid name is recognizable—language-specific names are just spelled differently based on language character. As “trivial names ” they have not been derived by employment of a nomenclature scheme.

Generally, for complex chemical structures and nanoscale architectures, it can be a challenge to correctly translate a chemical compound name or chemical class name, which commonly is constructed from prefixes, suffixes, locants and (sub)structure (functional group) names. Bernardo Herold emphasizes a basic two-step approach, to which one should adhere, when translating a chemical term from English into a target language (or vice versa) [2]:
  1. Establish the required rules of nomenclature in the target language.
  2. Translate a name based on the vocabulary and rules of the target language.
Language-specific spelling is the main reason why composed chemical names cannot always be translated successively name-part by name-part. In particular, the spelling of the names of certain chemical groups varies between languages, giving rise to different alphabetical ordering—for example, phenyl in English and German becomes phényle in French, fenyl in Dutch and fenil in Italian, Portuguese and Spanish. Herold demonstrates how the English-language name 3-methyl-5-phenylpyridine is correctly translated—according to IUPAC rules—into the Romanic-language name 3-fenil-5-metilpiridina [2].

In addition to language-adjusted nomenclature application, the understanding of the language-specific grammar is important. It determines features such as word order and word concatenation: potassium bromide in English is Kaliumbromid (one word) in German and  bromuro de potasio  (change of word order and insertion of preposition) in Spanish.  

Chemical nomenclature books are available in several languages [3].

Keywords: multilingual collaboration, linguistics, chemical terminology, IUPAC naming, disambiguation.

References and more to explore
[1] Latintos: Amino acids in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish [].
[2] Bernardo Herold: Why Translate Nomenclature? Chemistry International May-June 2013, 35 (3), pp. 12-15 [].
[3] International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry - Nomenclature Books:

Monday, May 13, 2013

Synonyms for sand corn, the common name of a flowering plant native to the western United States and parts of New Mexico

Sand-corn (Zigadenus paniculatus), also named foothill or panicled deathcamas
Sand corn is a flowering plant found in dry habitats of the western United States; for example in northwest Nevada. It has two accepted scientific names: Zigadenus paniculatus (Nutt.) S. Watson and  Toxicoscordion paniculatum (Nutt.) Rydb. [1-5].  Its scientific classification: order Liliales. In the literature, sand corn is taxonomically grouped either into Lilliaceae (lily family) or Melanthiaceae, the latter not unanimously recognized as a family and sometimes considered as part of the lily family.

Sand corn, also written sand-corn, is often referred to by its other common name: foothill deathcamas (also written: foothill death camas). This name indicates the poisonous character of the plant, which becomes relevant, when sand corns are growing on rangeland: intoxication of livestock may result from their alkaloid components such as zygacine [3].

Another synonym, panicled death camas [4], makes a reference to the often bending or nodding panicle with sometimes over fifty flowers (see Thomas Creek plant)—each having six small tepals with yellow-green splotch at base and showy, yellow anthers [5].

Keywords: botany, taxonomy, nomenclature, scientific name.

References and more to explore
[1] USDA Plants Profile: Zigadenus paniculatus (Nutt.) S. Watson [].
[2] Kew Royal Botanic Garden: Toxicoscordion paniculatum (Nutt.) Rydb., Bull. Torrey Bot. Club 30: 272 (1903) [].
[3] K. D. Welch et al.: The acute toxocity of the death camas (Zigadenus species) alkaloid zygacine in mice, including the effect of methyllycaconitine coadministration on zygacine toxity. J. Anim. Sci. 2011, 89 (5), pp. 1650-1657.  
doi: 10.2527/jas.2010-3444.
[4] Calflora Taxon Report 8367:  Zigadenus paniculatus [].
[5] Laird R. Blackwell: Tahoe Wildflowers. Morris Book Publishing, LLC, Guilford, Connecticut, 2007; page 37.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

A term in microbial ecology: disappearing microbiota hypothesis

Occurrences of certain medical conditions and diseases such as asthma, food allergies, hay fever, eczema, diabetes, obesity and celiac disease are dramatically going up. The physician and director of the Human Microbiome Program, Martin Blaser at New York University's School of Medicine is hypothesizing that the disappearance of microbiota from the human body is to blame. This loss of  microbiome species is largely caused by our obsessive use of antibacterial soaps and lotions as well as frequent treatments with antibiotics [1,2]:
Though they have always known that antibiotics kill “good” bacteria as well as “bad,” doctors generally assumed the body's microbial community was resilient enough to bounce back. But new studies show that the microbiome struggles to recover from repeated assaults, and may lose species permanently. Blaser suspects that diversity loss is cumulative, worsening from one generation to the next. He calls it “the disappearing microbiota hypothesis.” [boldface by author]
How clean should we be, without cleaning out the good microbes—or disturbing the balance between good, bad and neutral ones—that live behind our ears, in our armpits and in our gut and mouth?

Keywords: microbial diversity, microbiome, microbiology, medicine, hygiene, human health.

References and more to explore
[1] Martin J. Blaser, M. D. [].
[2] Richard Conniff: The Body Eclectic. Smithsonian May 30, 2013, 44 (2), pp. 40-47 [].

Friday, May 3, 2013

Trendy and inspirational: the suffixes -ome and -omics

In the beginning there was the word genome for the complete set of genetic material present in a cell or organism. The German botanist Hans Winkler came up with this term in 1920 [1]. It is a portmanteau blending the words gene and chromosome. An Oxford Dictionary of 2002 further tells us that [2]:

a  couple of terms have been formed on its model [the portmanteau genome]: proteome, the complete set of proteins produced from the instructions coded in a cell's genetic material, and metabolome (from metabolism), the complete set of metabolic processes within a cell. These seem to have been created partly by blending and partly by analogy with the older sense of the ending.

The older sense of -ome is the meaning of having a specified nature; for example, rhizome for the subterranean roots and shoots of a plant [2].

Now, ten years later, there are hundreds or even thousands of words derived by following the nomenclatural model creating the established terms genome, proteome and metabolome. The word transcriptome refers to the set of RNA molecules expressed from the genome. Emerging terms include variome for the set of genetic variation across a population of a species, epigenome for the set of chemical compounds involved in not-DNA-encoded gene expression, interactome for the set of molecular interactions in a biological system such as a cell, and fluxome for the set of small molecules changing along metabolic pathways in a dynamic system (due to flux responses resulting from both genetic and metabolic regulation). Terms you certainly will find more often in future publications include phenome for the set of physical descriptions that can ideally be related to genotype, regulome for the set of regulatory compounds in a cell, integrome for unions of 'omics data sets, omnisciome for the entirety of knowledge about a cell, organism or system, toxome for the set of cellular processes responsive to small molecules and involved in their toxicological activities, and lipidome for the set of all fatty molecules in an organism [3].

The name of a scientific field associated with an ome-ending word is typically built by replacing the suffix -ome with -omics. Genomics, proteomics, and metabolomics are well known examples. Transcriptomics, variomics, epigenomics, interactomics, fluxomics, phenomics, regulomics, integromics and lipidomics are emerging names and disciplines of scientific study. Omnisciomics and toxomics may follow. Data and knowledge within these fields have not all been derived from recent studies, some insight has been accumulated over decades. But recent advances, driven by modern analytical devices and high-throughput technology, are accelerating application and impact of these fields. Dedicated to the integration of  'omics domains is a peer-reviewed journal with the name OMICS [4].

And then there is the ending -etics, as in genetics. The distinction between 'omics and 'etics may seem confusing for outsiders. Let's conclude this with the description of the fine line between epigenomics and epigenitcs [5]: “Epigenetics focuses on processes that regulate how and when certain genes are turned on and turned off, while epigenomics pertains to analysis of epigenetic changes across many genes in a cell or entire organism.”

Keywords: biochemistry, linguistics, nomenclature, terminology, meta-data, integrative research.

References and more to explore
[1] Where the Word 'Genome' Came From [].
[2] Michael Quinion: Ologies and Ismas. A Dictionary of Word Beginnings and Endings. Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York, 2002..
[3] Monya Baker: The 'omes puzzle. Nature February 28, 2013, 494, pp.416-419. doi: 10.1038/494416a
[4] OMICS: A Journal of Integrative Biology [].
[5] National Cancer Institute: Epigenomics and Epigenetics Research [].

Friday, April 19, 2013

“How pinteresting”

Pinteresting, rhyming with interesting, is an adjective derived from the latter and the name of an exciting, rapidly evolving online pinboard, named Pinterest. This hot social network tool helps you collect and share pictures, illustrations, graphs, schemes and anything else visual. It lets you organize things on boards—making your great stuff or little niche toy available online and ready for repinning. For example, Axeleratio's Pinterest Boards contain a Sculptures & Architecture, Plant Life and a Petroversity board. The number of creative and pinteresting boards is increasing daily. People also use Pinterest to market their business, sell products and build their brands [1]. Pinterestingly, there is a board with the title “Pinteresting” [2]. Keep staying pinterested!

Dog bronze sculpture by Jean van Keuren pinned to Axeleratio's Sculpture & Architecture board at Pinterest
Dog sculpture pinned to my Sculptures & Architecture board
Pinning tips and trends can be found in the Pinterest Blog [3]. The Pinterest Twitter microblog, @Pinterest, has over one million followers. Also, more and more businesses are taking note on what Pinterest can do for them [4]. It eventually will pay to keep your level of pinterestness or pinterestedness high. Pinteressantissimo!

Keywords: Internet, social media marketing, visual platform, networking.

References and more to explore
[1] Jason Miles and Karen Lacey: Pinterest Power. Mc-Graw Hill, New York, 2013.
[2] Pinteresting:
[3] Pinterest Blog:
[4] Samantha Noble: Pinterst Tips for Business Profile Pages [].

Abbreviations and acronyms in business

Business communication is full of secret messages, short lingo, abbreviations and specific acronyms. Whether you are running or working for an enterprise or firm, are planning a start-up or simply are doing business with an individual or an organization, you certainly will encounter some frequently used short terms. I have collected, briefly explained and linked selected terms, particularly for small businesses and entrepreneur interests and activities. They can broadly be categorized as follows:
  • International agencies, organizations and councils including ICANN, ISO, WBCSD, WIPO, WTO;
  • National (mainly U.S.) agencies, offices and organizations including MBDC, NAPEO, OSHA, SBA, SBAC, SBDC;
  • Legislative acts, regulations, policies, and programs including BABCPA, BOB, CAIP, CAN-SPAM, EAR, ERISA, ESOP, FAR, FICA, FUTA, ITL, MACRS, REACH, SBIR, SCOR, SIC, SIMPLE, STTR, TSR, WAWF;
  • E-commerce related terms including CPC, CPI, CTR, PPA, PPC, SEO;
  • Miscellaneous other codes and notations such as Ad, ADR, B2B, B2G, BATNA, COGS, CRM, D-U-N-S, d/b/a, EBIT, EIN, EOQ, IFB, JIT, L/C, LOHAS, POS, PPP, ROAS, ROI, ROMI, TQM, USP, VMI.
The meaning of an acronym often depends on the context within it is used.  For example, CPA may stand for Certified Public Accountant or Critical Path Analysis.

Keywords: solopreneur, management, trading, marketing, legislation, schemes, short terms, phrases, category, disambiguation.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The more common term for additive manufacturing: 3D printing

The term additive manufacturing refers to technologies through which solid, three-dimensional products are constructed by successive addition of parts. Typically, these parts are layers that are deposited or printed on top of each other. Therefore, the common term 3D printing (or 3-D printing) is used. 3D printing is applied in rapid prototyping—the printing of plastic models to explore ideas and innovations. Currently, 3D printing is maturing to an advanced stage enabling the composition of complex devices and machinery [1]. Bioprinters are developed to biofabricate body tissue by printing living cells [2].
The typical 3D-printing process is based on inkjet printing: A layer of resin or polymers is precisely placed onto a substrate, while the deposited layer is turning itself—by hardening—into the substrate for the next layer. Also, metal or ceramic pigments or nanoparticles (or precursor compounds thereof) are spread out on a build platform and then reacted, melted, alloyed or sintered together; for example, by laser treatment.

A lot of excitement about 3D printing derives from envisioning all the possibilities people will get to digitally design and make their own toys and goods [3].

The term additive manufacturing contrasts the term subtractive manufacturing, which refers to the traditional machining and manufacturing processes including cutting, sawing, fracturing, cleaving, carving, drilling, polishing and finishing off. Instead of shaping a product by starting with a material piece or block and generating dust and waste, the 3D approach structures a product by building lightweight architectures from optimized resource minima. 

Keywords: engineering, chemistry, nanotechnology, advanced materials, design, fabrication, mass production.

References and more to explore
[1] Larry Greenemeier: To Print the Impossible. Scientific American May 2013, 308 (5), pp. 44-47. 
[2] Larry Greenemeier: Scientists Use 3-D Printer to Speed Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research [].
[3] The Economist: The printed world []

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Tockolith: a series of paints named after their inventors, the Toch Brothers

Tockolith is a patented paint combination invented by the Toch Brothers, claiming that Tockolith makes steel protection permanent and prevents corrosion of, for example, bridge steel, when it is exposed to high-temperature locomotive gases containing sulfur. In their neat book about Tockolith, published in 1914, the Toch Brothers explain that their paints are the only ones which combine with rust and form calcium ferrite, inhibiting progressive oxidation [1].

The Toch Brothers' iron and steel protecting formula, first sold in 1903, included organic lime salt as a binder, alumina silicate and other components of Portland cement [1,2]. Therefore it's longer name: Portland Cement Paint (see pages 15 to 17 in [1]). But the Toch Brothers distinguished Tockolith from Portland Cement by the way the final, hardened coating is chemically formed:
It must not be inferred that Tockolith sets in a few hours when applied to iron or steel, in the same manner as Portland Cement; such is not the case. The binder holds the cement in place and the setting process continues with exceeding slowness, under certain conditions requiring four months. It dries to the touch, however, in about six hours. When the binder has fully disintegrated an exceedingly hard cement coating remains on the steel, and this coating is a perfect preventive of corrosion. 
The older Toch brothers were Jewish immigrants from Bohemia (today part of the Czech Republic) living in New York's Lower East Side. Their business, the Toch Brothers firm, imported and sold paints and varnishes, and eventually ventured into manufacturing paints. Maximilian Toch, one of the sons of one of the brothers, had a passion for science, art and photography. He studied industrial paints and focused his research on protective materials for the modern urban landsacpe [2].

The word “Tockolith” combines the brother's family name “Toch,” changed into “Tock” with an appended letter “o” for easier pronunciation, and the word stem “lith” from the Greek word lithos, meaning stone or rock. Thus, the designation “Tockolith” underlines Maximilian Toch's “struggle for permanence” within his family's paint-manufacturing firm leading to the invention of quality paints for enduring steelworks.

Keywords: chemistry, steel, concrete, cityscape, pollution, deterioration, restoration.

References and more to explore
[1] Toch Brothers: Tockolith, R. I. W. Paints. 320 Fifth Ave., New York, 1914 [].
[2] Augustin Cerveaux and Evan Hepler-Smith: Quest for Permanence. Chemical Heritage Spring 2013, 31 (1), pp. 20-26 [].

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The plant Welwitschia mirabilis discovered by and named after the Austrian botanist Friedrich Welwitsch

The xerophyte Welwitschia mirabilis has always been known to the local people of  the Namib desert in Africa. This plant is endemic to a narrow strip of that desert range, where it was (re)discovered for modern science in 1859 by the Austrian explorer and botanist Friedrich Martin Josef Welwitsch (1806-1872). Eventually the plant genus was named in his honor. The Latin species name mirabilis means extraordinary, marvellous or wonderful [1-4].

Welwitschia mirabilis is the only species of the genus Welwitschia and therefore simply referred to as Welwitschia. This distinct species is most closely related to cone-bearing needle trees (pines, spruces, firs and larches). Each plant has only two permanent strap-shaped leaves. Welwitschia is well adopted to grow under extremely arid conditions, but plants are frequently exposed to fog that moves into the desert from the Atlantic Ocean with the cold Benguela Current upwelling off the coast of Namibia and Angola.

Friedrich Welwitsch spent seven years in Angola, where he collected a large number of plant and insect species, many of them new to science. Welwitsch himself called his marvellous discovery Tumboa, which was later renamed to Welwitschia by Joseph Dalton Hooker [3]. Hence the complete plant identifier: Welwitschia mirabilis, Hooker, f. The primatologist Jane Goodall, known for her expertise on chimpanzees and less known for her love of trees, recently wrote about Welwitsch's encounter with his Tumboa [4]:
... it is said that he fell to his knees and stared and stared, in silence. He sent a specimen to Sir Joseph Hooker, at Kew botanical gardens in London—and Sir Joesph for several months became obsessed with it, devoting hours at a time to studying, writing about and lecturing about the botanical oddity. It is, indeed, one of the most amazing plants on earth, a living fossil, a relict of the cone-bearing plants that dominated the world during the Jurassic period.
Keywords: botany, natural history, southern Angola, Namibia; living fossil, nomenclature, scientific classification: Plantae > Gnetophyta > Gnetopsida > Welwitschiales > Welwitschiacea.

References and more to explore
[1] Oxford Biography: Welwitsch, Friedrich Martin Josef (1806-1872), botanist [].
[2] Wilkinson's World: The Bizarre Welwitschia [].
[3] Natural History Museum: Portrait of Friedrich Welwitsch [,131698,en.pdf].
[4] Jane Goodall: The Roots of a Naturalist. Smithsonian March 2013, 43 (11), pp. 74-84 [].

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

An acronym in conservation biology and policy: ORCA for Ocean Research and Conservation Association

Orca refers to the killer whale (Orcinus orca). But written in all caps, ORCA stands for Ocean Research and Conservation Association, a nonprofit that cares for marine species from top predators all the way down the food web. ORCA was co-founded in 2005 by Dr. Edith “Edie” Widder, a biologist and deep-sea explorer. ORCA's main campus is housed in the historic Coast Guard station in Fort Pierce, Florida [1-3].

ORCA is dedicated to the protection and restoration of aquatic ecosystems, including the species these environments sustain. ORCA's mission statement explains that scientific understanding and advanced technology will play a major role in achieving this goal. For example, the development of high-tech sensor and communication technology is intended to support environmental quality monitoring and to find better management solutions [4].

Smithonian's staff writer Abigail Tucker recently joint Edith Widder in a submarine dive to explore bioluminescent sea animals. She also reports about an ORCA fund-raiser party with Widder near Fort Pierce [5]:
The party is a fund-raiser for her [Edith Widder] nonprofit, the Ocean Research and Conservation Association (ORCA), based in nearby Fort Pierce. ORCA's mission is to monitor coastal pollution, particularly in the Indian River Lagoon. Widder fights back tears while she tells the crowd about dolphins dying from pollution in waters just outside the door. Mullet are showing up with lesions, manatees grow tumors. Widder worries about the implication for human health, too.

Keywords: oceanographic research, marine ecosystems, aquatic conservation.

References and more to explore
[1] ORCA:
[2] ORCA Staff Biographies | Dr. Edie Widder:
[3] About ORCA:
[4] ORCA's Mission:
[5] Abigail Tucker: Light Fantastic. Smithsonian March 2013, 43 (11), pp. 50-59 [].