Sunday, 27 January 2013

What the Tapir is it?

To compare the Tapir to a list of some of the weirdest looking animals in the world, it is definitely up there with the best of them. In some regards due to its stature is is similar to a pig, but then it has a long snout which is like a shortened elephant's trunk. Although the Tapir seems to be a jumble of different animal parts, it is a relatively gentle creature with a kind face.

As the Tapir is not that well a known animal, it is not surprising that all 4 species (the Brazilian Tapir, the Malayan tapir, Baird's Tapir and the mountain Tapir) are classified as either endangered or vulnerable and several other species have already become extinct!

Tapirs are long mammals which a length of around 2 metres long and they stand at around 3 ft high. Their feet is something to look at with interest as they do not have the same number of toes on their front and hind legs; on the front there are 4 toes; and on the back there are 3, which aids in their travels though muddy and soft ground. The most 'strange' feature on the Tapir is that of its snout. The Malayan species has the longest whilst the Brazilian have the shortest, and they use these snouts for sniffing the air looking for mates and food. The Tapir has brilliant hearing which compensates for its lack of good eyesight which is caused by corneal cloudiness.

So the next time, you are asked what your favourite animal is, or if you want your naturalistic knowledge to be on par with the great British Legend  David Attenborough, spare a thought to the odd little Tapir, with its snout and non-matching toes.

Explorer Fact

The gestation of a Tapir is 13 months. When baby Tapirs are born they have a coat of stripes and spots, and as they get older their coat changes to a more uniform brown/ black colour (depending on breed). They can live up to the ripe old age of 30.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

I'm sticking with you.

The automsomal recessive disease of Sickle Cell Anaemia is known as being a serious life debilitating disorder, which has a tendency to affect those where Malaria is rife. It is caused by a single base point mutation in the Beta globin chain at the 6th position of the Haemoglobin molecule where the Glutamic Acid amino acid is replaced with a Valine. This substitution causes the protein chains to precipitate out of the Red Blood Cell and become sickled as a result.

Now this mechanism is thought to be useful in combating cancers. American researchers have used mice to test this theory. In the space of 5 minutes, the sickled cells began to 'stick' to the blood vessels near the de-oxygenated areas of the tumour. These cells deposit a very toxic residue which causes tumour cell death. The researchers are rather hopeful about this breakthrough and hope that it could be directed towards the treatment of breast and prostate cancer, once more trials have been carried out.

So it appears that some diseases which may negatively affect the body, has the ability to be used for the greater good and help to prevent the spread and growth of certain cancers.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

The science of the piano

As an avid piano player for many years, I enjoy bashing away on the ivories. I've heard that music has of course links to maths, what with the proportions and the staves and the notes. It makes sense but I've never really thought about the physics behind the piano. What actually makes the sound, how it resonates and the actual mechanism which occurs between pressing the key and a magnificently rich tone being heard.

So a bit of background, the piano is one of the most widely played instruments in the world, and it actually dates back to quite a long time ago. The name piano, is actually shortened from the word pianoforte which is a conjugation of the Italian words piano and forte which translated respectively mean quiet and loud.

When the piano key is hit it raises the wippen which pushes the jack against the hammer roller. At the same time the damper is raised and the hammer hits the wire causing it to vibrate and hence resonate. When the key is let go of the damper falls back onto the wire silencing it and stopping the vibration. Like guitars the pitch of the piano can be altered and this is to do with the strings; the length, width and tension of the strings all affect pitch.

So the next time you sit down to play Fur Elise or Baa Baa Black Sheep, think about the chain reaction which flows from your finger and through the piano and back to your ears. It really is something quite magical and awe-worthy.