Mar 152018
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Probably never, since a Dyson sphere is not a vacuum cleaner of the same-named famous brand. In fact, until now it is just a thought experiment:

In 1960 Freeman J. Dyson published his theory about the “the long-scale conversion of starlight into far infrared radiation” in Science.[1] He states that aliens with further developed technology than ours must have found an advanced way like this to harvest solar energy.

Such a device could be a shell around the system’s sun at a distance of about two earth orbits, a thickness of 2?3 m, and nearly the mass of Jupiter. All the energy emitted by the star could thus be absorbed and harnessed on the inner surface. Of course, one must first exploit an entire planet to obtain all the mass needed for this device –  a huge technical trouble.

But with his hypothesis Dyson also proposed a way to trace intelligent existence in far-away solar systems that was new up to then. Until the 1960s the search for aliens based on the search for extra-terrestrial radio signals. However, a Dyson sphere would appear as a dark object emitting radiation in the far infrared (about 10 µm).[1] Now, instead for only listening to strange radio noise, scanning the sky for abnormalities in the infrared spectrum became also of importance.

Some years ago mankind seemed to be one step closer to discovering a Dyson sphere (or something similar): the light of the star KIC 8462852 shows an immensely changing intensity as if a huge object is regularly passing by. An orbiting planet would be too small to cause such an eclipse. This evokes suspicions about space-factories or cities and even whole Dyson-like devices. But the shadow could probably also be cast by natural causes like the remains of a burst asteroid or an interstellar cloud.[2]

Until we will be able to construct a Dyson sphere millions of years could pass. We first have to develop advanced methods for space-travel and the technology to destruct a whole planet. Not to speak of the energy we will already have consumed on the way.

But then, of course, we might be able to drive our hoovers (or anything else) with energy from a Dyson sphere 😉


— Tatjana Daenzer


Read more:

[1] Dyson F. J., Science 1960, 131, 1667-1668.

[2] https://www.seti.org/seti-institute/mysterious-star-kic-8462852 (last access 16.02.2018).



Dec 032017
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How will the IT technology develop within the next decade?

Firstly, the term itself refers to the nowadays common praxis to “outsource IT activities to one or more third parties that have rich pools of resources to meet organization needs easily and efficiently” [1, 2]. In other words, one buys the permission to use hardware, network connectivity, storage, and software that is located in a computing center anywhere in the world. It is more or less comparable to other known public utilities such as electricity, water and natural gas [1] and follows the same rule: You pay for what you need, not more.

The private sector is also more and more part of the system. Cloud memory saves personal data and makes it available from any place with an internet connection, file sharing websites are widely used and gained a lot of popularity within the last years. Another kind of cloud computing is especially interesting for research: Branches with high computational needs, e.g. astrophysics, medicine, and large scale facilities like CERN, can save a lot of resources by outsourcing computational power to volunteers. While their PCs are idle, a program starts in the background and performs calculations for the project [3].

The current state of cloud computing is already very impressive, however there is one major goal the IT industry starts to tackle now, namely the so-called Internet of Things (IoT). An example is Near Field Communication (NFC), a set of hardware and software protocols to enable two devices to communicate wireless with each other [4]. It is already part of most modern smartphones and also widely used for contactless payment cards. More and more devices in our daily life will be included in this IoT, resulting in increased connectivity and data flow around us. The idea is to take the cloud and place it everywhere around us, basically creating a fog [5]. This now indeed called “fog-computing” could span a wide range of applications in daily life. From smart houses that adjust the temperature, to refrigerators that tell their user when they are getting empty. An even more spectacular application could be connected to the trend towards self-driving cars. Large IT companies already started to develop cars which do not need a driver any more [6]. What sounds like science fiction could become commonly available within the next decades and opens the path to some great applications of fog-computing. How about a traffic light, which already counts the arriving cars and adjusts its phases according to the traffic volume or tries to prevent accidents by detecting obstacles and pedestrians much faster than any human would be able to? The possibilities are incredible.

However, one also needs to consider possible disadvantages like data safety and the problem of the totally transparent citizen. Moreover, judiciary will require a lot of adjustments and new laws, especially when the computer hardware that processes cloud data is located in another country with different data protection laws. There are a lot of changes to be made, however so far technological progress was never stoppable. We will most likely be able to observe within the next 10 years some of the biggest changes in IT technology and connectivity since the invention of the internet itself.

–Kai Litzius

[1] Hassan, Qusay (2011). “Demystifying Cloud Computing” (PDF). The Journal of Defense Software Engineering (CrossTalk) 2011 (Jan/Feb): 16–21.}
[2] M. Armbrust, A. Fox, R. Griffith, A. D. Joseph, R. Katz, A. Konwinski, G. Lee, D. Patterson, A. Rabkin, I. Stoica, M. Zaharia, “Above the Clouds: A Berkeley View of Cloud Computing”. University of California, Berkeley, Feb 2009.
[3] http://boinc.berkeley.edu/projects.php
[4] Cameron Faulkner. ” NFC? Everything you need to know”. Techradar.com.
[5] Bar-Magen Numhauser, Jonathan (2013). Fog Computing introduction to a New Cloud Evolution. Escrituras silenciadas: paisaje como historiograf?a. Spain: University of Alcala. pp. 111–126.
[§] Google Self-Driving Car Project Monthly Report – September 2015″ (PDF). Google.

Oct 232017
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Even though I left the JUnQ Editorial Board over a year ago and am very busy in my job in industry, the desire for experiment never left me. The reason for experimenting in in my current job differs from academia – you need to earn money and usually do not publish your results. But one thing always remains the same: You get your fair share of failure!

Test of new colored ink in fountain and rollerball pens leaking (©Andreas Neidlinger)

When I heard about the photo contest JUnQ organized, I thought to myself: Why not submit a picture of my current experiments to provide proof that you will always have the same fun, even when your studies are over? What you see is no fancy laboratory equipment and no grandiose new discovery elegantly captured for the posterity. It is just some quality check and product development for the writing instruments industry. The outcome might not fulfil the customer’s needs and at first it caused a big laugh. Later, it meant more work. Just like in academia.
Some things never change
— Andreas Neidlinger

Oct 232017
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During the last months we have received a lot of funny pictures from our readers. Unbelievable how much inspiration you can find in labs and offices! Luckily, we did not have to choose since the winning picture was drawn by lot.
And here it is:

“Be happy if your laboratory experiment works! Bright smile :D”
– ©Esther Vogel

The winner is Esther Vogel with her photo of a magnified vascular bundle. If you look at it even more closely you might recognize a big-eyed, bearded smiley. Lucky are those, whose experiments smile back.
Esther is not only rewarded with the publication of her photo but also with an amazon coupon. Congratulations!
We thank all the participants and wish them good luck for the future.

Oct 232017
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Following the current trend of making sure that all goods are organic, fair trade and biodegradable our second issue this year is all green.
Blogger Samantha Jakuboski is dedicated to spread the word about climate change since an early age. Read what she has to say in her interview. We can still learn a lot!
For those who don’t have a garden or at least a small balcony to grow crops on, there is hope: urban gardening. See what can be done in your streets in our short essay about Cueillette Urbaine.
Unfortunately, another interview with Tim Jan?en about “Cradle to Cradle” cannot be published yet. We must wait until our next issue in January 2018. Be excited to learn how we can preserve our nature by using renewable energy and recycling food and waste.
And last but not least:
Congratulations to Esther Vogel, the winner of our photo contest in August!

Since there were no submissions for articles, unfortunately this section must be left empty.
Again, here comes the call to our readers: please help to raise the attention on JUnQ. Tell your friends and colleagues about the Journal of Unsolved Questions. There is no shame in null or negative results. Share your experiences with the world and help your colleagues to learn.
With this in mind keep digging through the JUnQ to find the hidden treasures in green sciences and green lives!

— Tatjana Daenzer

Download this issue (PDF)

Browse this issue (on the website)

JUnQ Photo Contest: Take Your Camera and Shoot

A Comment on Arts and Sciences from an Industrial Point of View

Of Blogging and Climate Change

Urban farming

Apr 132017
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Dear Readers,

We have reached our baker’s dozen. It is a delight to bring to you the 13th issue of JUnQ – the baking was a tad too long. We take an in-depth look into Science and Art – the central theme of this issue. More so, on how one complements the other, even though from afar they may look like nothing alike. We have had engrossing discussions with Artists, who mix their craft with scientific foundations, and Scientists, who dabble in the creative outlets that Arts provides. Did you know that dancing could win us the battle against dementia or that dead inanimate objects can be breathed new life into through science….all this and more you can find between the covers. And we (the editorial team at JUnQ) have also harnessed our creativity in coming out with the JUnQ Photo Contest, where you can showcase your talent to identify the aesthetic appeal of science. Even though an issue like this doesn’t have the negative or null result-oriented articles we so wish to highlight, still it serves as an important vehicle to appreciate the other mediums of seeking knowledge, than the analytical. To whet your appetite, we have titivating essays about the wonderful history of Art and Science and not to forget, for the ever curious, Questions of the Week pages.

We understand and appreciate your patience. We hope you feel excited about our newest issue of JUnQ!

— Soham Roy on behalf of the editorial board

Download JUnQ Volume 7 Issue 1

Jul 252016
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Dear Readers,

We are delighted to bring to you the 12th issue of JUnQ. This time round, the central theme deals with Statistics in Science and what it entails and how can it be misused. We held insightful interviews with few of the best experts in Statistics and we present their views about the current era where mis-interpretations of data abound. It is heartening to see that the publication of negative or null results still is important for many in science. We have an article on Pretreatment of Steel and Zinc surfaces that highlights such details. Also in the days ahead, open access will be the norm and we present an excellent commentary on it.

We hope you feel excited about our newest issue of JUnQ!

— Soham Roy on behalf of the editorial board

Download JUnQ Volume 6 Issue 2

Mar 162015
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Have you ever wondered why most people can tell which color they see but they most likely cannot label a note they hear without having a reference note? The second ability is known as absolute pitch (AP) or perfect pitch and is rather rare in Europe and North America. Only one of 10000 people possess this ability, e.g. some popular musicians such as Mozart. [1]

There already has been considerable interest and research about where AP stems from but it still is an unanswered question. By searching the internet you will find several websites telling you that they can teach you to get AP. But from a scientific perspective it is not proven that this is possible: Only one study has shown that a learning process of about 60 hours led to some kind of success. [2] This seems much of an effort compared to the essentially unconscious learning of AP in childhood.

There are basically three different explanations for the genesis of AP:

  • training makes it possible (this is what the websites mentioned above will tell you)
  • genes are responsible
  • learning is feasible but only if you start at a young age

The genetic origin of AP is supported by the fact that young children already possess it and that it is more likely to have AP if there are other family members with AP. Of course in the latter case it is possible that young children get “trained” by these family members and do not just have it in their genes. But in fact there is some scientific evidence that a specific part of the genome could – at least partly – be the reason. [3]

There are also reports about the benefit of an early start of musical training. Another distinctive feature is the linkage to the acquisition of speech in infancy. There are differences between speakers of nontone languages like English and tone languages, e.g. Mandarin or Vietnamese. Tone language speakers seem to have an advantage, which is possible due to some kind of training effect in tone languages: The meaning of some words changes if you use another pitch. So children that are speakers of a nontone language have to learn more about pitches when they start musical training.

Up to now we can only speculate that the right composition of these requirements could be the clue to gain AP.

If you want to test yourself, you should have a look at http://www.absolutepitchstudy.com/index.html.


Nicola Reusch


[1] Deutsch, D. Absolute pitch. In D. Deutsch (Ed.). The psychology of music, 3rd Edition, 2013, 141-182, San Diego: Elsevier.

[2] Brady, P. T. Fixed scale mechanism of absolute pitch. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 1970, 48, 883-887.

[3] Elizabeth Theusch, Analabha Basu, Jane Gitschier, Genome-wide Study of Families with Absolute Pitch Reveals Linkage to 8q24.21 and Locus Heterogeneity, The American Journal of Human Genetics 85, 112–119, 2009.

Jun 052014
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Peeing or, more delicately, urination or, medically and even more delicately, micturation, is, contrary to popular opinion, a rather complex behaviour. In human infants and animals it seems spontaneous. In humans and some domestic animals it can be brought under conscious or voluntary control. In humans this is called, somewhat ambivalently, ‘potty training’. In domestic animals it is called, rather confusingly, ‘housebreaking’ in American English or, slightly more logically, ‘house-training’ in British English. In many other animals, who use urine as scent or territory markers, it must also, at least partly, be under voluntary control. However, even if brought under voluntary control, it still sometimes happens that in healthy individuals some external stimuli may provoke the urge to urinate as if by reflex.

One urban legend says that urination can be induced in a sleeping person by holding one of his hands in water. There is considerable disagreement about this putative phenomenon.[1]

Other much reported provoking stimuli of micturation are (1) the sound of running water, for example in taps, fountains, and waterfalls, (2) hand-washing in cold water, and (3) being in a loo / toilet / bathroom / washroom / restroom, as if by a conditioned reflex.[2]

He stared at a big bleary bald-headed sixty-year-old man in the mirror. He turned on the cold water at one of the bassins and cupped his hands and rubbed water over his face The water really made him want to urinate, and so he went over to the toilet, which was some streamlined, low-slung beige thing, and he urinated. Was this a bad sign, the urge he had always to urinate in the middle of the night?[3]

In this literary passage it is unclear – apparently also for the novelist – whether the urge to urinate is caused by the washing of hands in cold water, by the splashing of cold water on the face, or by the sound of running water, or – prosaically – because of an age-effect on the bladder and its sphincters.

There are probably at least two more local stimuli of the micturation reflex. The first stimulus is invasive and is used as an experimental and diagnostic tool. In the ice-water test (IWT) cooled water is

injected through a catheter into the bladder.[4] The second stimulus is non-invasive and is used as a means to induce urination in women who have recently given birth and are experienceing difficulty or pain urinating. The author of a popular self-help book advises:

You can encourage the urine to start flowing again by […] placing hot or cold packs on your perineum (whichever triggers your urge to urinate).[5]

Interestingly, the author writes also:

If it’s good old-fashioned fear that’s holding you back, you might want to try drinking plenty of liquids to dilute the acidity of your urine, straddling the toilet saddle-style when you urinate, urinating while you pour water across your perineum (you can use either a peri-bottle or a bowl), or — if you really get desperate — urinating when you’re standing in the shower.[6]

This advice comes closest to the idea conveyed in a passage that originally triggered my curiosity. In 1964 the Dutch writer and painter Jan Cremer published his first novel which became a best-seller and a cause célèbre. In this supposedly autobiographical picaresque Cremer described his childhood friendship with a young mother around 1950:

If I happened to be in the street in the afternoon when Betty came home with the baby carriage, she’d say to me, “Come in and watch Bartje piss,” and I’d go in with her. She would change his diaper and sprinkle a little cold water on his ass, and he’d react immediately by pissing until his little bladder was empty.[7]

Apparently ‘Betty’ used this trick to ensure that her baby boy ‘Bartje’ would have an empty bladder when getting a dry and fresh diaper. This was before the days of disposable diapers and Bartje’s diapers were most likely made of cotton. It was in his mother’s interest that Bartje would have a dry diaper as long as possible. Ensuring that Bartje’s bladder was empty when his diaper was getting changed was one way to do this.

Maybe it is the same reflex that is responsible for the often observed peeing while undoing a used and wet diaper. In such cases, especially boys can cause hilarity when they spray with urine the unexpecting adult who undresses the diaper.

Maybe the putative reflex was painted by Rembrandt. Ganymede’s bottom region must have become relatively cold when being airlifted. An alternative explanation for the airborne micturation could be that Ganymede urinated because of ‘real stress’ incontinence: the distress or hightened negative stress that was caused by the situation in which he suddenly and unwillingly had found himself.

The reflex may thus be provoked by sudden cooling of the natal region and it might therefore be called the cold bottom reflex.

To my surprise, I found no references in the scientific literature of this putative reflex. Also in recent handbooks of practical baby care I did not come across this parental trick. Therefore the following questions must be addressed: (1) is this a genuine phenomenon and reflex or was it an instance of poetic licence by Jan Cremer? and (2) if this is a genuine reflex, was it and its practical applicability forgotten? or (3) was it a private observation and lucky discovery by ‘Betty’ that was recorded accidentally by Jan Cremer?

Wolter Seuntjens

Dutch Academy of ’Pataphysics, Amsterdam


Notes and References:

[1] http://www.discovery.com/tv-shows/mythbusters/mythbusters-database/hand-water-asleep-urinate.htm

[2] Radley, S., J. Derek and C. Chapple, ‘Ambulatory Urodynamic Monitoring’, in The Urinary Sphincter (eds. J. Corcos and E. Schick), New York: Marcel Dekker, Inc., 2001, pp. 335-55 (p. 352).

[3] Tom Wolfe, A Man in Full. New York: Macmillan, 2010 [1998], p. 138.

[4] Al-Hayek, S. and P. Abrams, The 50-year history of the ice water test in urology. Journal of Urology 183, 2010:1686–92.

[5] Ann Douglas, The Mother of All Pregnancy Books: An All-Canadian Guide to Conception, Birth and Everything in Between. Hoboken (NJ): John Wiley and Sons, 2009.

[6] Ibid. The‘peri-bottle’ is a squeeze bottle named after and used specifically to cleanse the perineum.

[7] Jan Cremer, I, Jan Cremer. (English Version by R. E. Wyngaard and Alexander Trocchi), London: Calder & Boyars, 1965 [1964], p. 48.


Feb 242014
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Life on earth is a tremendously complex process and, independent of whether one believes in one god or the other or not, evidence accumulates that this complexity originates from an evolutionary process. [1-3] According to the dogma of molecular biology DNA is to be transcribed into messenger RNA, a rather transient active copy, which is translated into proteins by using transfer RNAs (tRNA) as adaptors. [4] This dogma states that proteins are the only class of macromolecules that carry out catalytic functions. But how could such a complex system have evolved from a ‘primordial soup’? A significant modification of the central dogma of molecular biology was caused by the Nobel prize winning discovery of RNAs that are capable to catalyze biochemical reactions without the need of a protein component [5, 6] , giving rise to a theory of molecular evolution based on an RNA world. [7, 8] But even if you go for the RNA world hypothesis the initial question is only transferred from proteins to RNA: How could large, complex RNAs evolve from the vast ocean? This question leads to

The concentration problem:

Any kind of (bio) chemical reaction can only proceed to high yield if the concentration of starting material is high and best yields are achieved when the products either catalyze further reactions or when product and starting material get separated, resulting in a constant pull due to the continuing disruption of any equilibrium. Alas the concentration of organic molecules in the primordial ocean is thought to be similar to the one in the cotemporary ocean, which means too low to support life. [9]

The Contemporary solution to the concentration problem:

In contemporary life forms the concentration problem is solved by compartmentalization: Bacteria and
Archaea are equipped with a cell membrane that forms there outer hull, while Eukarya possess even additional sub compartments. Consequently the first life forms, so-called protocells, would consist of an outer membrane and an informational and functional biopolymer, i. e. RNA. [10] It could be shown that fatty acids (the ‘ancestors’ of present phospholipids) can self-assemble into lipid membranes and thereby form compartments that are capable to internalize new nucleic acid building blocks (nucleotides), while retaining the copied biopolymer. [11]

Thermophoresis as a possible primordial solution of the concentration problem:

This ‘membrane first’ approach would introduce an additional quite unlikely event in the schedule that would ultimately result in the evolution of life. As with basically any unlikely event there of course exists a competing theory, which in this case relies on inorganic compartmentalization as the cradle of life. [12] Several years ago Baaske et al. proposed an especially elegant approach to inorganic compartmentalization in the RNA world: The authors applied their recently developed theory of thermophoresis in aqueous solutions [13] in simulations on nucleotide diffusion in pore systems of hydrothermal vents at the bottom of the sea. [14] Thermophoresis describes movement of molecules in a temperature gradient: Heat of a specific source (here a hydrothermal vent) dissipates in solution and the resulting temperature gradient facilitates molecule accumulation or depletion in the heat source, depending on the nature of the molecule investigated. [15] The pore system of the vent would not only supply compartmentalization is this scenario but a whole network of compartments that are connected by thermophoresis.
The result of the simulations of Basske et al. was: By an interplay of solvent transport by convection and thermophoresis single nucleotides could be accumulated more than 10 8 -fold, while polynucleotides were concentrated even more, depending on their length and the pore geometry. [14] The authors note that their model already supplies a setting of temperature oscillation like it is used in exponential DNA amplification by the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR). Herewith a possible mechanism of mono- and polymer concentration was developed but an important question remained: It was unclear whether any self-replication of nucleic acids would be possible in the hydrothermal pore system. Obermayer et al. could address this question by a theoretical approach [15] , while Mast et al. succeeded recently in addressing this system experimentally in a DNA system. [16]
It seems like the thermophoresis model is indeed capable to compete with other model of evolution and we can be looking forward to the studies to come.

Felix Spenkuch

[1] J. E. Barrick et al., Nature 2009, 461, 1243-1247.
[2] D. Brawand et al., Nature 2011, 478, 343-348.
[3] F. C. Jones et al., Nature 2012 484, 55-61.
[4] F. Crick, Nature 1970, 227, 561-563.
[5] C. Guerrier-Takada, K. Gardiner, T. Marsh, N. Pace, S. Altman, Cell 35, 3, 1983, 849–857.
[6] K. K. Kruger et al., Cell 1982, 31, 1, 147-157.
[7] W. Gilbert, Nature 1986, 319, 618.
[8] G. F. Joyce, Nature 1989, 338, 217-224.
[9]E. V. Koonin Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 2007, 104, 9105-9106.
[10]J. P. Schrum et al. Cold Spring Harb Perspect Biol 2010, 2, a002212.
[11]Mansy et al. Nature 2008, 454, 122-5.
[12]S. E. McGlynn et al., Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A 2012, 37, 1969, 3007-3022.
[13] S. Duhr, and D. Braun, Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 2006, 104, 22, 9346-51.
[14] P. Baaske, F. M. Weinert, S. Duhr, K. H. Lemke, M. J. Rusell and D. Braun,s Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 2007, 104, 22, 9346-51.
[15] B. Obermayer, H. Krammer, D. Braun and U. Gerland PRL 2011, 107, 018101-1-4.
[16]C. B. Mast et al. , Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 2013, 110, 20, 8030-5.