The Biodiversity Heritage Library

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The Biodiversity Heritage Library has a wonderful collection of resources about our shared biodiversity online. What is “biodiversity”? Wikipedia explains it as follows:

Biodiversity, a contraction of “biological diversity,” generally refers to the variety and variability of life on Earth. One of the most widely used definitions defines it in terms of the variability within species, between species and between ecosystems. It is a measure of the variety of organisms present in different ecosystems.

The goal of the Biodiversity Heritage Library is to improve “research methodology by collaboratively making biodiversity literature openly available to the world as part of a global biodiversity community”.

A Sperm Whale

It is a remarkable resource, especially for school projects and for all you science geeks. One of the best parts of the Library is its extensive Flickr collection which has an enormous collection of scans and imagery.

The Library “serves as the foundational literature component of the Encyclopedia of Life” which you can find here. What is the Encyclopedia of Life?

Our knowledge of the many life-forms on Earth – of animals, plants, fungi, protists and bacteria – is scattered around the world in books, journals, databases, websites, specimen collections, and in the minds of people everywhere. Imagine what it would mean if this information could be gathered together and made available to everyone – anywhere – at a moment’s notice.

Its mission:

To increase awareness and understanding of living nature through an Encyclopedia of Life that gathers, generates, and shares knowledge in an open, freely accessible and trusted digital resource.

Between the Library and the EOL, these are wonderful biodiversity resources. Definitely worth bookmarking for all those school projects and personal exploration. I’ve added both sites to our Sources page.

Image credit: Biodiversity Heritage Library

Seeing our planet from the International Space Station

Our planet from the space station
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NASA publishes a large collection of photos and videos of our planet as seen from the International Space Station. They offer a truly spectacular view of our home.

What really stands out, particularly when you watch the videos, is that you don’t see borders and the many differences that divide us. Instead, what you see is the one, beautiful planet that we all share.

A wonderful example of this is astronaut Jeff Williams’ video of the Earth as he passed overhead during a recent visit to the International Space Station. This video, titled “Jeff’s Earth” is mesmerizing on a big HD TV:

This 2012 video titled “Earth Illuminated: ISS Time-lapse Photography” is another wonderful opportunity to see what the astronauts see from the ISS as they orbit the Earth:

It is easy to forget that the Earth is the only home we have and that we share it. Fortunately, photos and videos from organisations like NASA help remind us of what we have in common.

Here are some photos from the NASA Johnson Space Center collection on Flickr:

Featured image credit: NASA Johnson Space Center

Unbreakable Prince Rupert’s Drops

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I came across these awesome glass drops in a video by Destin Sandlin from Smarter Every Day.

When you drop a piece of molten glass into cold water, the result is a tadpole shaped piece of extremely hard glass.

Three Prince Albert drops
Prince Rupert’s drops

Well, at least the head of the drop is very strong. The tail is actually quite delicate.

A shattering Prince Albert drop
A shattering Prince Rupert’s drop

The reason Prince Rupert’s Drops are so strong is that the outer layer of glass hardens almost straight away, while the inside takes a bit longer. When hot glass cools down (and this happens with water turning into ice too), the glass shrinks. This means that the inside of the glass drop is cooling down and shrinking but the outside is already cold and hard so the glass pulls towards the centre of the drop and makes it really, really strong inside.

Before we look at a really cool video of Destin from Smarter Every Day trying to break one of these drops using a bullet, take a look at his video that shows you how the drop is formed.

Right, now you have seen how the drop is formed and that hitting it on the head with a hammer won’t break it but if you nip the tail then the whole thing explodes.

Destin takes it a step further and shows us that even a speeding bullet won’t actually break the head of the drop itself.

Tip: try watch this on a large, high resolution screen for an even better experience.

How cool was that?!