Alan Alda’s Flame Challenge

At age 11, actor Alan Alda asked his teacher what a flame was. He received a confusing answer: “oxidation.” In the spirit of better communicating science, he’s created the “Flame Challenge,” a contest in which scientists do their best to define a flame. Eleven-year-olds from around the world will judge the entries.

Source: NPR

For more information on the Flame Challenge, visit the Official Website.

To read Alda’s guest article in Science, introducing the challenge, click here.

20 Years Later, We’re Still Learning from Ötzi the Iceman

A quick background before we get started, for those who are unfamiliar with Ötzi:

Ötzi the Iceman is a well-preserved natural mummy of a man who lived about 5,300 years ago. The mummy was found in September 1991 in the Ötztal Alps, on the border between Austria and Italy. The nickname comes from the Ötztal (Ötz valley), the Italian Alps in which he was discovered. He is Europe’s oldest natural human mummy, and has offered an unprecedented view of Chalcolithic Europeans. His body and belongings are displayed in the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, Italy.

The remains of Ötzi the Iceman.

After being studied for the last 20 years, we know the following about Ötzi:

  • At the time of his death Ötzi was approximately 1.65 metres (5 ft 5 in) tall, weighed about 50 kilograms (110 lb) and was about 45 years of age.
  • Analysis of Ötzi’s intestinal contents showed two meals (the last one consumed about eight hours before his death), one of chamois meat, the other of red deer and herb bread. Both were eaten with grain as well as roots and fruits. The grain from both meals was a highly processed einkorn wheat bran.
  • Ötzi apparently had whipworm (Trichuris trichiura), an intestinal parasite.
  • Ötzi’s teeth showed considerable internal deterioration from cavities. These oral pathologies may have been brought about by his grain-heavy, high carbohydrate diet.
  • Ötzi had several carbon tattoos including groups of short, parallel, vertical lines to both sides of the lumbar spine, a cruciform mark behind the right knee, and various marks around both ankles.
  • Massive blood loss from a ruptured artery killed Ötzi, probably the result of a fight. This assessment is based on the presence of a flint arrowhead lodged in his back and extensive cuts to his hands.  The arrow struck him in the left shoulder and slit the artery under his collar bone.

A reconstruction shows what Ötzi may have looked like while alive.

Yesterday, a report detailing the sequence of Ötzi’s full genome was published in Nature Communications. It reveals that he had brown eyes, “O” blood type, was lactose intolerant, and was predisposed to heart disease! It also shows him to be the first documented case of infection by a Lyme disease bacterium.

Analysis of series of anomalies in the Ötzi’s nuclear DNA has revealed him to be more closely related to modern inhabitants of Corsica and Sardinia than to populations in the Alps, where he was unearthed. Ötzi’s mitochondrial DNA had already been fully sequenced in 2008.