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Allison Sekuler
Works at McMaster University Neuroscientist and Vision Researcher, +1s: science, art, science communication, HigherEd, interesting ideas
Attended University of California, Berkeley
Lives in Hamilton, ON, Canada


Seeing Sound

This is not a post about synesthesia, although that is one of my favourite topics. Instead, it's an explanation of how you can use Schlieren flow visualization so really see sound, as in see the sound waves associated with the clap of a hand (you can also use it to visualize other things, like a sneeze or a cough, which is a little grosser, but still cool). 

The video is only about 2 minutes long, and I guarantee that time will fly by, since this is one of the cooler videos I've see in a while. 

I need to find some time to set up my own Schlieren flow visualization system so I can start visualizing claps, and finger snaps, and cookie crunches (but not sneezes or coughs). 

I love #ScienceSunday  - I'd never have seen this otherwise. Thanks +Koen De Paus for supporting +ScienceSunday !
Casting Light on Sound to See its Shadow

"When light passes between areas of different air density, it bends. You've probably noticed the way distant pavement seems to shimmer on a hot day, or the way stars appear to twinkle. You're seeing light that has been distorted as it passes through varying air densities, which are in turn created by varying temperatures and pressures.

In the mid-19th century, German physicist August Toepler invented a photography technique called Schlieren Flow Visualization to visually capture these changes in density. The setup is a bit hard to explain in words (watch the video above for a full explanation) but it allows scientists and engineers to see things that are normally invisible: the rising heat from a candle, the turbulence around an airplane wing, the plume of a sneeze.

It can also be used to see sound. Sound, after all, is just another change in air density — a traveling compression wave. A speaker pushes on the surrounding air, creating a wave that travels outward until it encounters the ear drum."
High Speed Schlieren Video of Premixed Flame, Spark Ignition

#ScienceSunday  | +ScienceSunday 
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Great! Adding this to references for a project involving sound as a model for (social) network dynamics.
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The Art of Science

Had to share +Rich Pollett 's great post for #ScienceSunday , which illustrates how well art and science merge.

Also check out +Aida Hazlan 's related post, identified via +Chad Haney 's share on +ScienceSunday :

Nature’s Mistakes With Frogs - And They Are Beautiful
science & art

Since 1996, visual artist and biologist Brandon Ballengée has been fascinated with the physical deformities of amphibians. As you can see, his interest goes beyond his extensive scientific research on the topic. In an ongoing art project entitled Malamp: Reliquaries, Ballengée uses the unique process of “clearing and staining” biological specimens to highlight the hidden beauty in terminally deformed frogs.

Malamp: Reliquaries:

#science #art #sciencesunday  
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and +Daniel Goncharov  :)
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The Heartburn of Heartbleed

If you're like me, you've had a lot of fun recently trying to think up new passwords, each one more complex and less memorable than the next. UCB's Horse+Horse created this comedic take on passwords a few years ago, but it is more relevant now than ever....

Enjoy, and know that you're not alone in your quest for the perfect password(s).

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thanks for sharing +Arsalan Baig and +Chase Rude 
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For everyone who loves blood, and I know that's almost all of you, check out +Joanne Manaster 's video review of Blood Work below.

We're hoping to work together on another bloody project soon, but in the meantime, you can really get a bloody fix by tuning in to Joanne's whole series on blood: Blood Cell Bakery, which highlights a range of really interesting aspects of blood using cookies as illustrations.

#ScienceEveryday  when it's not #ScienceSunday  
I was having a chat with +Allison Sekuler about a potential future project and I recalled a review I video'd of a great book called "Blood Work" by +Holly Tucker  . If you've not read it, and aren't squeamish about blood, I highly recommend it.
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Smallest Rotary Motor from a G+ Giant

Every once in a while, when I want to be inspired about science communication, I hop over to +Rajini Rao 's page to remind myself how it's done right.

Since today is her birthday, there's an extra reason to head over there. And in her honour, I'm sharing one of her early posts, which made it clear to so many people why she deserves the title of Science Wonder Woman.

It's been more awesome than I can express working with her on +ScienceSunday and in other ways to help spread science-y goodness, and if you're one of the few science lovers who isn't yet following her, you're missing a real treasure here on G+. 

#ScienceEveryday   when it's not #ScienceSunday  
Smallest rotary motor in biology, the ATP synthase. All the work done in your body is fueled by breaking a chemical bond in ATP, the “currency of energy”. Did you know that you convert your body weight (or an estimated 50 kg) of ATP per day?!

Where does this ATP come from? It is synthesized by an incredibly sophisticated molecular machine, the ATP synthase, embedded in the inner membrane of our mitochondria. Energy from the oxidation of food results in protons being pumped across the membrane to create a proton gradient. The protons drive the rotation of a circular ring of proteins in the membrane that in turn move a central shaft. The shaft interacts sequentially with one of 3 catalytic sites within a hexamer, making ATP (little butterflies in the movie!). The ATP synthase rotates about 150 times/second

To visualize the rotation under a microscope, a very long fluorescent rod (actin filament) was chemically attached to the central shaft. Watch real movies (not animations!) of the enzyme spinning here:

Notice the rotation is slower with longer rods. The rotor produces a torque of 40 pN nm (40 pico Newtons x nanometer), irrespective of the load. This would be the force you would need to rotate a 500 m long rod while standing at the bottom of a large swimming pool at the rate shown in the movie.

How did this amazing rotor evolve? The hexameric structure is related to DNA helicases that rotate along the DNA double helix, using ATP to unzip the two strands apart. The H+ motor has precedence in flagella motors that use proton gradients to drive rotation of long filaments, allowing bacteria to tumble through their surroundings. At some point, a H+ driven motor came together with a helicase like hexamer to create a rotor driving the hexamer in reverse, to synthesize ATP.

The 1997 Nobel prize in Chemistry was awarded to John Walker and Paul Boyer for solving the structure and cyclical mechanism of the ATP synthase, respectively. This amazing enzyme was also the subject of my own Ph.D. thesis, and my first love!

For #ScienceSunday curated by +Allison Sekuler and +Robby Bowles .
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+Rajini Rao may know more about how it's been/being used +mark hahn - seems like a logical approach if possible
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Fun with Pareidolia
(From my share on +ScienceSunday)

We have had lots of posts about pareidolia over the years, but this one just might take the cake! It is one of the strongest, and strangest, demonstrations of how our brains try to make sense out of nonsense. 

In this case, simply adding some dots, that our brains interpret as eyes, completely changes our interpretation of randomly drawn shapes and squiggles. And best of all, it's something you can really easily do on your own at home using just a pen, paper, and, yes, the transparent piece of paper that separates cheese slices!

Thanks to +Viv M. for sharing this wonderful video via +Sergey Andrianov  and +Jennifer Broderick  . If you don't do anything else we ask of you today, just take a few minutes to watch this video - it is really cool :)

We've posted a list of past pareidolia posts below, and here is Viv's commentary:

Please, watch this.
My children would probably roll their eyes at me so I will have to try it myself. :)
Pareidolia is something I learnt this year from _ +Allison Sekuler _ . It's the phenomenon of finding patterns or assigning meaning to vague stimuli. As this video is about faces, I'd like to add that scientists say that it happens because we are innately wired to detect faces.
Watch it and try it!

Further reading on pareidolia:

A Face Place via +Allison Sekuler and +ArchiEli
includes a bit of information about pareidolia and face perception, and a bunch of links to some of her other other pariedolia posts:

The face of testicular pain

Frankenstone and friends

Art + Science = Pareidolia

The Face from Space (includes a link to a terrific article in Scientific American by +Stephen Macknik    on a number of really famous cases of pareidolia).

Pareidolia in Allison's brain

and How the brain can tell what's really a face (discusses some work by +Ming Meng   and colleagues on how the left and right brain work together to recognize faces)

And check out these other great #ScienceSunday pareidolia shares: 

Pods with pareidolia via +Rajini Rao

Mickey Mouse on Mercury via +Gail Barnes

Rocky Pareidolia via +Larry Mayer

and Planting Pareidolia via +Nerdvana +Thomas Kang and +Kateryna Artyushkova

#ScienceSunday   #scisunABS  
Watch as Carl the talking piece of cardboard rocks this art tutorial!

#DIY   #Art   #Creativity  
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The Easter Puppy
Another holiday goes to the dogs....

My friend +Milena Head has some of the cutest puppies, and she also takes some of the best shots of them dressed in all sorts of costumes (e.g., this superhero themed shot she did for Halloween...:

Now Charlie is in the running for the TLC Pet Food Easter Pet Photo Contest. It's being run off another social network, but it's still a lot of fun to see all the Easter Pets. Since as far as I know, Jacques le Dogue (who is sort of family, since he lives with one of my cousins in New Orleans...) is not in the running, I'm throwing my vote behind Charlie. 

If you want to see all the pets, and cast your vote for Charlie or another of your favourites, you can see them here:

And you can see Jacques in all his Mardi Gras and other parade glory here:

A slightly late or super early entry for #FidoFriday  ;)
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Hi how u so intelligence lady god bless your siu
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Heartbleed Explained

this is one of the best, and simplest, explanations of Heartbleed I've seen. What else would you expect from xkcd?

Are You There Server? It's Me, Margaret...
Heartbleed explained xkcd style

By now, most people will have heard about Heartbleed, and the programmer responsible for the bug has even been named. But in the mad rush to change all your passwords, remember that unless the vulnerable sites already have patched the Heartbleed hole, entering a new password just makes that password vulnerable too.

Not all sites used the vulnerable protocol, and not all that did have fixed the vulnerability yet. But groups like +Mashable are compiling lists of where you're good to go in creating a new password:

You also can check which sites are good to go here:

Meanwhile,  if you are feeling the pain of trying to come up with what seems like an infinite number of complex passwords meeting all the increasingly complex standards of various sites, know that you're not alone, as this prescient short comedy video by Horse+Horse illustrates:

#ScienceSunday   #scisunABS  
illustration by xkcd.  original source here:
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Biases in Baseball
Lessons from sabremetrics

More on the science of baseball - this one from my of +Erin Kane 's post on   +ScienceSunday 

As our ability to track everything in baseball increases, through the introduction of PITCHf/x and other big data approaches, sabremetricians (those who apply statistical methods to all things baseball) have shed light on a number of biases that exist in making calls of all sorts.

Mike Fast, of Baseball Prospectus, and others have been discussing the issue since PITCHf/x premiered back in 2006 (e.g.,, but given the extent of the data, there is always something new to learn. 

As +Erin Kane  shares, Brayden King and Jerry Kim now shed new light on some of the biases in umpires calls of pitches as balls versus strikes, and highlights how umpires' expectations come into play in making the calls. For example, when making calls on pitchers with a reputation of pinpoint accuracy, the strike zone expands; and when making calls on pitches with a reputation of being a bit wild in their throws, the strike zone shrinks. Similarly, when long-time All Stars are up to bat, the strike zone shrinks compared to when non All Stars are facing the same pitchers. 

You might think there's an easy solution: Make strike/ball calls reviewable via video replay - but for fans of the sport, it becomes a bit more complicated as a quick perusal of the comments to +The New York Times  article reveals.

And as "melaseic" from Chicago notes there:

Rule 9.02 (a) reads, "Any umpire’s decision which involves judgment, such as, but not limited to, whether a batted ball is fair or foul, whether a pitch is a strike or a ball, or whether a runner is safe or out, is final," the Umpire is always right, even when he's wrong :) 

And since it's baseball season now, here are a few other #ScienceSunday  shares on the sport:

Why Chimps Don't Play Baseball via +Allison Sekuler

Baseball is Physics via +Chad Haney

and How Players See a Fastball Coming via +Ward Plunet

The Statistician's Sport

Using pitch location data, researchers examined how umpires' biases affect their calls. Surprise - the home team's strike zone is significantly larger than the visitor's team. But status matters too - all-star pitchers get the benefit of a larger strike zone than pitchers who've never been to the All Star Game. And pitchers with a reputation for precision benefit for more called strikes which were actually balls, than pitchers with a reputation for wildness (Greg Maddux vs. Randy Johnson, for example). 

#sciencesunday   #statistics   #baseball   #status   #biases  
They call about 14 percent of pitches incorrectly.
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Mark R
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The Future of Liberal Arts

A great discussion featuring the Presidents of +Pomona College  and +Bard College , highlighting several important messages about higher education.

As a Pomona grad, a lot of this resonated with me, but as they said in the discussion, it doesn't really matter where you go to college/University, it's what you learn and what you do there that matters.

One of the greatest advantages I found at a place like Pomona, however, is that we were required to take a really broad range of courses in different disciplines. That's come in handy throughout my adult life in being able to communicate with people from really different backgrounds and with different interests (like all my G+nius friends here on G+).

Of course, if you went to a place with more specialized degrees (as is the norm in +Canada ), you're at a great advantage nowadays compared to the stone ages when I went to college... There is such great access to information through MOOCs, YouTube series like +CrashCourse , high production documentaries, easy access to books, and, of course, the great discussion groups and learning that takes place here on G+,  that it's much easier to supplement your knowledge and explore new areas of knowledge than it was a few decades ago. It's always easier, of course, if someone makes you do it as part of your course requirements. And it is still so important that people learn to understand what sources of information can be trusted, and how to integrate information across sources. 

One other key point (among many) Oxtoby and Botstein make is that the courses students take really is only part of what's learned at college. Campus life leads to so much additional learning of important, translatable skills, like collaboration, communication, time management, and, if you're lucky enough to be at Pomona, where all the great burrito places are in Southern California (Juanita's Burritos is definitely one thing I miss living in Canada now...:)).

Would be interested to hear what people think of the Liberal Arts & Science approach to education. As a University administrator, and the mom of a kid finishing up high school soon, these issues are always on my mind!

#HigherEd   #Chirp  
Pomona College President David Oxtoby and Bard College President Leon Botstein will discuss "The Future of Liberal Arts" on a Google+ Hangout on Thursday, April 3, from 3:30 to 4 p.m. PST. Post your questions ahead of time or live during the Hangout. Use  #futureofliberalarts to join the conversation.

If you wish to submit questions via email instead of Google+, please contact
This Hangout On Air is hosted by Pomona College. The live video broadcast will begin soon.
The Future of Liberal Arts
Thu, April 3, 6:30 PM
Hangouts On Air

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+Martin Bennett - there's no way for me to plus your comment, so consider this a plus. Hope you got a chance to watch it. 
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+1s science (esp vision & neuroscience), science communication, HigherEd, art, interesting ideas
Professor of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour and AVP & Dean of Graduate Studies, McMaster University, Hamilton, ON. Pomona (BA, Chirp!) and UC Berkeley (PhD) grad. Formative years: Evanston, IL. research areas: vision science, neuroscience, aging, perceptual learning, neural plasticity, neuroimaging (EEG and MRI); collaborates with other on schizophrenia and autism passions: science and science communication, education and higherEd, books, visual arts and theatre, cool random ideas, good food, my kids -- not necessarily in that order twitter @asek47
Bragging rights
scientist who likes stinky cheese and non-stinky science
  • University of California, Berkeley
    Psychology (PhD), 1986 - 1990
  • Pomona College
    Mathematics & Psychology (BA), 1982 - 1986
  • Evanston Township High School (ETHS)
    1978 - 1982
Basic Information
March 27
  • McMaster University Neuroscientist and Vision Researcher, +1s: science, art, science communication, HigherEd, interesting ideas
    Associate Vice-President and Dean of Graduate Studies; Professor, Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour, present
Map of the places this user has livedMap of the places this user has livedMap of the places this user has lived
Hamilton, ON, Canada
Evanston, IL - Boston, MA - Freiburg, Germany - Berkeley, CA - Claremont, CA - Toronto, ON - London, UK - Hamilton, ON - Schwäbisch Hall, Germany