The Portrait of Mona Lisa, painted by Leonardo da Vinci, hangs in Louvre museum in Paris. Experts may have found the bones of the real life model for the famous painting.
By John Roach, Contributing Writer, NBC News
Mona Lisa's skull and bones may have been found beneath a decrepit nunnery in Florence, Italy, archaeologists are reporting.
If so, scientists will be a step closer to proving that Lisa Gheradini Del Giocondo, the wife of a wealthy silk merchant, was the model for Leonardo da Vinci's famous painting that today hangs in Paris' Louvre.
Italians know the painting as La Gioconda based on a belief that her husband, Francisco del Giocondo, commissioned Da Vinci to paint a portrait of his wife in 1502.
Historical records, including a death certificate discovered a few years ago, indicate Gheradini was buried at St. Ursula's convent where she died in 1542, two years after her husband's death.
A team of archaeologists led by Silvano Vinceti, chairman of the National Committee for the Promotion of Historical Heritage, Culture, and Environment, began excavating the dilapidated building where the convent was located in April.
Vinceti noted that a battery of tests such as carbon-14 dating and a comparison of DNA with two of Gheradini's children buried in Florence's Santissima Annunziata church will be required to prove the skeleton belonged to the Mona Lisa's real-life model.
Then, the team will reconstruct the face and compare it to the famous painting to see if they match.
The Northstar Table by Colleen and Eric Whiteley won the grand prize in the "Space Craft" contest held by NASA and the Etsy online crafts market.
By John Roach, Contributing Writer, NBC News
Being called a spacey artist isn't such a jab for the four winners of a design contest meant to celebrate NASA programs. The makers of the winning entry — the Northstar Table with a North Star button that opens a hidden drawer when pressed — will even travel to Florida to watch the next shuttle launch.
The "Space Craft" contest, a collaboration between NASA and the Etsy online crafts market, aimed to help inform Etsy's 5.8 million members, the majority of whom are women, about NASA's present and future exploration plans.
There were three categories — 2-D original art, 2-D art reproductions, and 3-D art including wearable items. More than 600 people entered an original handmade item or work of art. The entries were whittled down to 50 semifinalists, and voting was opened to Esty's members. Final judging was held March 18 by a panel of experts including former NASA astronaut Steve Robinson, artists and journalists.
The winners The grand prize went to Colleen and Eric Whitely from Brooklyn for their detailed Northstar Table. The pattern on the table represents the night sky on the evening of the first moon landing. The one-of-a-kind table has a price tag of $2,800.
In addition to the all-expenses-paid trip to Florida to watch the space shuttle Endeavour launch on April 19, Colleen and Eric received a $500 shopping spree on Etsy. Winners of the categories each received a $250 Etsy shopping spree and a bag of NASA and Esty swag.
Etsy / Rachel Barry Hobson
"High Texture Hand Embroidery of the Moon" Won the 2-D Original category of the Space Craft contest.
Rachael Barry Hobson from Austin, Texas, won the 2-D category for her $999 piece titled "High Texture Hand Embroidery of the Moon," which the judges said stood out for its breathtaking details.
Hobson, a self-described space geek who went to space camp when she was 12, notes that when she views the moon through a telescope, "I get weak in the knees."
Etsy / Nikkita Karsan Bhakta
"Universal Thoughts" by Nikkita Karsan Bhakta won the 2-D Reproduction category in the "Space Craft" contest.
The 2-D reproduction prize went to Nikkita Karsan Bhakta from Mobile, Ala., for her "Universal Thoughts." She says of the $35 reproduction: "My original goal was to photograph trails of smoke and succeeded doing so by experimenting with India ink and water. It was later that I discovered the uncanny, visual parallels between the ink trails and images I have seen from space."
Etsy / Patrick Burt
The titanium ring titled "Brother Sun, Sister Moon" won Etsy's top prize in the 3-D category.
Patrick Burt from Tempe, Ariz., won the 3-D category with a titanium ring embedded with silver, gold and diamonds titled "Brother Sun, Sister Moon." The jewels represent stars, the sun, moon, Mercury, Mars, Venus, Jupiter and an intricately cut Saturn. The ring can be custom-ordered for $825.
For more photos of the finalists and show your support for spacey artists, check out the contest page.
This model of the HIV virus is one of the winners in the 2010 International Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge. Click on the image to launch a slideshow featuring the contest's top images.
By Alan Boyle, Science Editor, NBC News
Talk about going viral: The honorees in one of the world's most respected competitions for scientific visualization include views of some nasty-looking viruses, plus a host of videos that deserve to get some viral distribution. Take a look at the top of the crop in the 2010 International Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge, jointly sponsored by the journal Science and the National Science Foundation.
The visualization contest, which is currently in its eighth year, recognizes scientists and artists who use visual media to promote understanding of scientific research. The criteria for judging the entries include visual impact, effective communication, freshness and originality.
"We consider such 3-D models as a new way to present and promote scientific data about ubiquitous human viruses," Ivan Konstantinov of the Visual Science Company said in today's announcement of the contest results. Konstantinov said he and his colleagues tried to show the viral particle as realistically as possible.
"While working on the HIV model, over 100 articles from leading scientific journals were analyzed," he said. "For this project, Dr. Yegor Voronin from the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise helped us evaluate the data, shared recent findings and views in the field, and provided general advice." Konstantinov said 3-D scientific modeling may have applications for the Web, for tablets and other mobile devices.
The first-place winner in the non-interactive media category used video to tell the story of 3,000 pieces of trash from Seattle that were tagged with sensors and tracked as they made their way through the nation's garbage disposal system.
"Our project aims to reveal the disposal process of our everyday objects, as well as to highlight potential inefficiencies in today's recycling and sanitation systems," Carlo Ratti, director of the "Trash | Track" video project from SENSEable City Lab at MIT, said in today's announcement.
"It was fascinating to see this invisible infrastructure unfold," said Dietmar Offenhuber, the project's team leader. "The extent and the complexity of the network of waste trajectories were quite unexpected."
The visualization challenge and similar roundups of scientific imagery such as Nikon's Small World contest and Olympus' BioScapes competition give a much-needed boost to public interest in science. It's easy to get sucked in by the science-fictiony pictures — and learn some science facts in the process.
First Place: Dietmar Offenhuber, E. Roon Kang, Carnaven Chiu, Armin Linke, Assaf Biderman, Carlo Ratti; Senseable city lab / MIT, supported by Waste Management, Qualcomm, Sprint, and the Architectural League NY Trash | Track (project described in the video below):
Amit Chourasia, Emmett Mcquinn, Bernard Minster, Jurgen Schulze; San Diego Supercomputer Center, UCSD GlyphSea (video explanation linked below):
SDSC / UCSD
Click on the image to launch an MP4 video explaining the "GlyphSea" project.
Damian Pope, Greg Dick, Sean Bradley, Dave Fish, Roberta Tevlin, Steve Kelly, and Tim Langford; Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics Everyday Einstein: GPS and Relativity (video highlights below):
It's the start of a New Year — giving us 31,557,600 seconds to check off all those things we resolved to do as we celebrated the end of 2010. That seems like plenty of time, right? Before you procrastinate, though, check out this video above.
Norway's Eirik Solheim created the video, which uses time-lapse photography to condense the passage of a year into just 40 seconds — a beautiful illustration of the changes of the seasons that sometimes escape us when time marches at its regular beat.
Let it also serve as a reminder that before we know it winter will be over, spring will have sprung into summer, the fall harvest will be done and holiday shopping will be upon once again. So don't wait for tomorrow, 2012 is just around the corner.
Since the success of the "one year in 40 seconds" video, which Solheim made in 2008, he's upped the ante with a "one year in 90 seconds" video, shown below. This one uses a slightly different method, which involves morphing short video clips into each other to add action to the seasonal scenes.
How do you turn a bunch of bones into a gorgeous picture of a Gorgosaurus? In a newly published book, two paleontologists and an artist from Australia describe the process that's worked for them for more than 30 years.
The Monash Science Center's Patricia Vickers-Rich and her husband, Museum Victoria's Thomas Rich, write about the paleontological groundwork that they do to figure out how extinct species looked — and how they lived. Freelance artist Peter Trusler, who was trained in zoology at Monash University, writes about how he builds on that groundwork to flesh out his pictures of those species. But it's clear that their method is not just a one-way assembly line leading from the fossils to the finished product.
"Sometimes the horse leads the cart, and sometimes the cart leads the horse," Trusler told me.
The way Trusler sees it, his illustrations are often "another one of the investigative tools in science to try to increase our understanding." And the Riches appreciate what he does.
"Peter is not only an artist," Thomas Rich told me. "He's also a very well-qualified scientist. He could have easily gone down that academic route, so you're not talking about a person who just draws pretty pictures."
Patricia Vickers-Rich agreed: "He's basically a scientist, too. He just happens to be a scientist who has a good style of art. ... We've got a very special guy there."
Trusler, who will be going for his Ph.D. under Vickers-Rich's guidance, goes out on expeditions just like the other scientists. "In some cases, I've sent Peter in the field in place of me," Vickers-Rich said. "If there was not a lot of money, I would send him."
Tom Rich recalled the time Trusler went out and gathered up some ginkgo leaves, then cut incisions into the leaves to get an idea of what the ancient Ginkgoides australis species looked like. Trusler often asks questions about how a particular anatomical feature might have worked, or how a creature's surroundings might have looked in ancient times. "If we couldn't provide the answers, he would go out and find a way to supply the answers," Rich said.
It's not cheap to document the discoveries made by paleontologists, Vickers-Rich pointed out. Supporting the effort requires major-league fundraising.
"It doesn't just come in your back door and somebody says, 'Here's $100,000, now go for it,'" she said. "Therefore, if you're going to do something like that, you need to be as accurate as you possibly can. From the point of view of a scientist, why would want a generic background? If you're going to put something out there that's unique, you don't want to just paint a green tree. You've got to know what kind of leaves to put on it. You have to know how tall it might have grown. You have to know the soil type. You have to know the geochemistry ... you need to know all that. I think what makes this art somewhat different from a great number of art pieces out there is, that care has been taken. If you're going to do generic, you just don't do what I do."
The better-than-generic results of the team's labors are on full display in the book — fossils gathered during the Riches' travels in Australia, New Zealand, Asia, the Americas, Africa and eastern Europe, plus sketches and paintings by Trusler that end up providing a photorealistic view of the past. The artist as well as the scientists are based in Australia, so much of their story is set Down Under. But their work has become known worldwide.
The weirdest pictures come not from the age of the dinosaurs, but from earlier or later — from the Precambrian, for example, a time when body plans apparently took on strange shapes that are hardly ever seen today. Or from the time when giant birds and mammals ruled the roost in Australia, just before the humans arrived.
You won't find feathered dinosaurs amid the pages of "The Artist and the Scientists," but stay tuned. Thomas Rich says he's focusing in on sites in Australia that are similar to China's Liaoning deposits, where the best evidence of dinosaur feathers has been found. Right now he has his eye on fossil beds near Koonwarra. "That's where we should go and look really hard for feathered dinosaurs," he said.
Meanwhile, Trusler is trying to figure out how to render a particular species of ichthyosaur, the ancient marine reptiles that ruled the seas while the dinosaurs held sway on land. "I don't have an idea in my head about what the final appearance of this animal is going to be," he said. "Your creativity is at play to a certain degree all the time, but the ultimate product is quite a mystery."
Thankfully, it's a mystery Trusler doesn't have to tackle alone. That's the main message of "The Artist and the Scientists."
"It's not simply a step-by-step process, in terms of me translating something that's set in concrete," Trusler said. "The process is quite an interactive one, and it always will be."
Be sure to click through "Bringing Prehistory to Life," a slideshow featuring photos and illustrations from "The Artist and the Scientists," published by Cambridge University Press.
A space shuttle hat created by ObeyMyBrain's Josh Freeman is one of the semifinalists in the Space Craft Contest presented by NASA and Etsy. A smiling plush Hubble Space Telescope is attached to the hat.
By Alan Boyle, Science Editor, NBC News
Last month we told you that NASA was lending its weight to a different kind of space craft: space-related craft items created by the folks who frequent the Etsy e-commerce website. The Space Craft Contest, jointly presented by NASA and Etsy, solicited entries in three categories -- 2-D original art, 2-D art reproductions and 3-D art, including wearable items.
The items in the semifinals include cute hats, cool rings, a moon cape, a wooden play set, a travel organizer for space tourists and oodles of beautiful artwork. There's a NASA-themed felt headband that's listed at the out-of-this-world price of $2,011, but it turns out that the maker plans to send it to spacewalking astronaut Mike Good's wife when the contest is over, as a "thank you to NASA and the space shuttle program."
A panel of judges, including NASA and Etsy representatives, will select the winners from the top 20 vote-getters in each category. The grand prize is a $500 Etsy shopping spree plus an all-expenses-paid VIP trip to Kennedy Space Center for the space shuttle Endeavour's launch, currently scheduled for the end of February. Winners in each category will get $250 and swag from Etsy and NASA.
Etsy's artists and craftspeople have been working on these entries for weeks -- and now, to paraphrase Alan Shepard, it's time to "light this candle." The countdown for voting ticks down to zero on Nov. 19.
There's a certain grace to the interplay of DNA and RNA molecules ... and the scientists who study those molecules can be graceful as well. Evidence for that hypothesis is provided by the winners of this year's "Dance Your Ph.D." contest, led by Carleton University researcher Maureen McKeague. The journal Science has sponsored the contest annually since 2008 to reward efforts that transform research into interpretive dance. In this case, the reward was $1,000, and a rare chance to highlight complex chemistry with jazzy showtunes.
McKeague and her colleagues at Carleton's DeRosa Lab put together a medley to demonstrate a chemical technique known as SELEX, or systemic evolution of ligands by exponential enrichment. The technique produces short segments of DNA and RNA called aptamers, in a process that mimics the natural phenomena of evolution and survival of the fittest. McKeague's mission is to find aptamers that can offer a cheap and accurate method to measure levels of the amino acid homocysteine in blood samples. High levels of homocysteine have been linked to cardiovascular disease.
An assembly of French artist Elisabeth Daynes' reconstructions serves as a "family portrait" for living and extinct hominids. Two australopiths, nicknamed Lucy and Lucien, are in the foreground at right. A representation of the first Homo species to leave Africa raises a rock in the foreground at left. A Neanderthal family is in the far background, and Homo sapiens is represented by the bearded figure stretching out his left hand in the background at right.
The PaleoArt Prize, one of the top honors for artwork related to paleontology, was established in 1999 by art collector John J. Lanzendorf. This year's prize was awarded to Daynes at the annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology in Pittsburgh. The artist was born in the south of France, began her career as a theater makeup artist and has been creating "hyper-realistic" reconstructions of ancient creatures for more than 20 years.
The photo above gathers many of Daynes' masterpieces together for a group portrait. To learn more about the figures, check out the Atelier Daynes website, and particularly the "Reconstructions" gallery.
A 20-inch-high crocheted space shuttle, created by Ms Premise-Conclusion for the Etsy crafts website, has detachable sections "for easy playability."
NASA is going where no space agency has gone before — the Etsy online crafts market — with a design contest to celebrate the space shuttle era.
Etsy is an e-commerce website specializing in handcrafted goods that blend quality and quirkiness, an "eBay for the artisan crowd," as my colleague Helen A.S. Popkin described it. There are already quite a few space-themed products for sale, ranging from a $5 patterns for a crocheted space shuttle to a $2,000 galaxy quilt. The NASA-backed contest may well add to the selection.
NASA is hoping the contest will spark some spacey ideas from Etsy's 5.5 million members, 96 percent of whom are women, with the majority under 35 years old. Word of the contest has already sparked more than 100 responses to Etsy's call for entries.
"The contest reaches an important audience NASA would like to better engage to help share the excitement that is America's space program," Doug Comstock, NASA's director of partnerships, innovation and commercial space, said today in a space agency announcement. "These craftspeople will bring new perspectives that can help communicate NASA's mission and inspire our next generation of explorers in new ways."
Entrants can submit two-dimensional original art, including paintings and collages as well as computer graphics and photographic prints ... or they can submit three-dimensional creations, including wearable art and soft sculptures. The creation should be inspired by NASA and NASA's programs, such as the space shuttle and human spaceflight, aeronautics or space science and exploration.
The galaxy M64, also known as the Black Eye Galaxy, is immortalized in a quilt for sale on the Etsy craft website.
The grand-prize winner $500 in credit for an Etsy shopping spree, plus an all-expenses-paid trip to Florida to attend the launch of the shuttle Endeavour next February as a VIP. Three best-in-category winners will receive $250 plus goodies from Etsy and NASA.
Printed designs, artwork or photos may be eligible to fly on the space shuttle. But the deadline is coming up quick: By Nov. 2, the creation has to be listed in an online Etsy craft shop. Entrants have to be legal U.S. residents aged 18 or older. The entries will be voted on by visitors to the Etsy website. A panel of crafters and designers will narrow down the field and pick the winners. Winning entries will be selected on Feb. 1.
Check the Etsy "Space Craft Contest" Web page for the official details and answers to frequently asked questions. And may the creative force be with you.
NASA astronaut Doug Wheelock sends along this picture of an auroral display as seen from space - and says such views remind him of the Don McLean song "Starry Night." It's not clear when this picture was taken, but the vantage point matches up with the International Space Station, where Wheelock is serving as the unofficial on-board photographer. Seeing the northern and southern lights from above are a special treat for the astronauts. The aurora made quite a splash last week, and space weather forecasters had thought there might be a solar-storm sequel this week. It turned out that this week's auroral displays weren't as dramatic as last week's. Nevertheless, Wheelock's pictures - like this week's Perseid meteor displays - serve as a reminder that beauty can be found high above our heads like "swirling clouds in violet haze."
Colorizing old movies is old hat, but why would you want to colorize an old masterpiece? Researchers at Northwestern University and the Art Institute of Chicago did exactly that to figure out the thought process behind Henri Matisse's creation of "Bathers by a River." The painting marked a turning point for his artistic career - and his color palette as well.
Don't worry, art lovers: The researchers didn't alter the painting itself.
Instead, they used black-and-white photographs of the work, taken in 1913, as a guide to map the intensity of the colors at the time. Then they reworked the colors, with the aid of art experts, to produce a digital version of the artwork. The effort revealed how Matisse moved toward Cubism as he worked on the painting between 1909 and 1916.
The show's co-curator, Stephanie D'Alessandro, says 1913 marked the period "of the most radical innovation and change" for the picture, which the artist ranked as one of the most pivotal works of his career. It marked Matisse's transition from the exaggerated, colorful style he was so well known for to a more austere, abstract style.
The painting started out in 1909 as a naturalistic watercolor sketch, as shown in this New York Times interactive, but took shape in far more muted tones of gray, pink and green. In 1913, a series of black-and-white photographs documented the painting as well as the painter. But then, in the 1916 time frame, the picture shifted dramatically once more: The figures in the finished work are more angular, and they're framed with geometric panels of green, black, white and blue.
Some clues to the earlier versions of the work could be gleaned from X-ray analysis of the painting's layers - but to get a clearer idea of how Matisse was using colors back in 1913, the curators turned to Aggelos Katsaggelos and Sotirios Tsaftaris, two professors at Northwestern University who are experts in image and video processing. The professors created a computer model that mapped the colors from microscopic samples across the painting, and used the black-and-white photos to fill in the gaps.
"It was challenging to figure out where color was needed," Katsaggelos said in a Northwestern news release, "but we are all quite confident in the image's final colors."
"We first developed an algorithm to correlate information between the final state of the painting and the black-and-white photograph," he explained. "This guided us in determining both the areas where color was needed in the photograph and the choice of color for each area, what we call color hints. Our colleagues at the Art Institute assisted us in further refining our color choices. We then developed a second algorithm that propagated each color hint throughout its area, colorizing the whole image."
The art curators were so happy with the outcome of the experiment that the professors have been asked to do something similar for a future Willem de Kooning exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art.
"The Matisse project is just the tip of the iceberg," Katsaggelos said. "This technology represents a new intersection of art and science that is very exciting."