Friday, December 10, 2004

Scientific American Articles

There are some very interesting articles in the last two issues of Scientific American that you might be interested in reading.

--"Optics and Realism in Renaissance Art" (December 2004). I've always thought artist David Hockney's theory that Renaissance artists used optical aids to create their startlingly realistic paintings (Jan van Eyck's Portrait of Giovannie Arnolfini and His Wife is an example) was remarkably ingenious. In this article, David Stork uses both computer vision techniques and infrared reflectography to raise some serious questions about Hockney's theory.
--"Capturing a Killer Flu Virus" (January 2005). This article recounts the flu pandemic of 1918-1919 (40 million deaths, incredibly) and the attempt to retrieve the virus's genes from the preserved tissues of victims. Amazingly, Swede Johan Hultin went to Alaska in 1949 to the settlement of Teller Mission, which had been 'all but wiped out' in 1918. They extracted tissue from a mass grave (with permission of tribal elders), but were unable to grow live virus from the specimens. However, in 1997, Hultin returned, received permission from tribal elders a second time, and found a tissue sample that eventually provided the entire genome of the 1918 virus. The attempt to identify the origins of the virus and its relationship to contemporary flu strains is excellent reading.

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