A Medical Student Creates Intricate Anatomical Embroideries of the Brain, Heart, Lungs & More

My first thought upon seeing the delicate, anatomy-based work of the 23-year-old embroidery artist and medical student Emmi Khan was that the Girl Scouts must have expanded the categories of skills eligible for merit badges.

(If memory serves, there was one for embroidery, but it certainly didn’t look like a cross-sectioned brain, or a sinus cavity.)

Closer inspection revealed that the circular views of Khan’s embroideries are not quite as tiny as the round badges stitched to high achieving Girl Scouts’ sashes, but rather still framed in the wooden hoops that are an essential tool of this artist’s trade.

Methods both scientific and artistic are a source of fascination for Khan, who began taking needlework inspiration from anatomy as an undergrad studying biomedical sciences. As she writes on her Moleculart website:

Science has particular methods: it is fundamentally objective, controlled, empirical. Similarly, art has particular methods: there is an emphasis on subjectivity and exploration, but there is also an element of regulation regarding how art is created... e.g. what type of needle to use to embroider or how to prime a canvas.

The procedures and techniques adopted by scientists and artists may be very different. Ultimately, however, they both have a common aim. Artists and scientists both want to 1) make sense of the vastness around them in new ways, and 2) present and communicate it to others through their own vision. 

A glimpse at the flowers, intricate stitches, and other dainties that populate her Pinterest boards offers a further peek into Khan’s methods, and might prompt some readers to pick up a needle themselves, even those with no immediate plans to embroider a karyotype or The Circle of Willis, the circular anastomosis of arteries at the base of the brain.

The Cardiff-based medical student delights in embellishing her threaded observations of internal organs with the occasional decorative element—sunflowers, posies, and the like…

She makes herself available on social media to answer questions on subjects ranging from embroidery tips to her relationship to science as a devout Muslim, and to share works in progress, like a set of lungs that embody the Four Seasons, commissioned by a customer in the States.

To see more of Emmi Khan’s work, including a downloadable anatomical floral heart embroidery pattern, visit Molecularther Instagram page, or her Etsy shop.

via Colossal

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, February 3 when her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain celebrates New York: The Nation’s Metropolis (1921). Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Download Beautiful Free Posters Celebrating the Achievements of Living Female STEM Leaders

Remember the posters that decorated your childhood or teenaged bedroom?

Of course you do.

Whether aspirational or inspirational, these images are amazingly potent.

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit what hung over my bed, especially in light of a certain CGI adaptation…

No such worries with a set of eight free downloadable posters honoring eight female trailblazers in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math.

These should prove evergreen.


Commissioned by Nevertheless, a podcast that celebrates women whose advancements in STEM fields have shaped—and continue to shape—education and learning, each poster is accompanied with a brief biographical sketch of the subject.

Nevertheless has taken care that the featured achievers are drawn from a wide cultural and racial pool.

No shame if you’re unfamiliar with some of these extraordinary women. Their names may not possess the same degree of household recognition as Marie Curie, but they will once they’re hanging over your daughter’s (or son’s) bed.

It’s worth noting that with the exception of the undersung mother of DNA Helix Rosalind Franklin, these are living role models. They are:

Astronaut Dr. Mae Jemison

Robotics pioneer Dr. Cynthia Breazeal

Mathematician Gladys West

Tech innovator Juliana Rotich

Pharmaceutical chemist Tu Youyou

Biopharmacist and women rights advocate Maria da Penha

Biotechnologist Dr. Hayat Sindi

Kudos, too, to Nevertheless for including biographies of the eight female illustrators charged with bringing the STEM luminaries to aesthetically cohesive graphic life: Lidia Tomashevskaya,Thandiwe TshabalalaCamila RosaXu HuiKarina PerezJoana NevesGeneva B, and Juliette Brocal

Listen to Nevertheless’ episode on STEM Role Models here.

Download Nevertheless’ free posters in English here. You can also download zipped folders containing all eight posters translated into Brazilian PortugueseFrenchFrench CanadianGermanItalianSpanish, and Simplified Chinese.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, January 6 when her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domaincelebrates Cape-Coddities (1920) by Roger Livingston Scaife. Follow her @AyunHalliday

Richard Feynman’s “Lost Lecture:” An Animated Retelling

Nobel prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman is “famous in a number of dimensions,” says science and math explainer Grant Sanderson of the YouTube channel 3blue1brown in the video above. “To scientists, he’s a giant of 20th century physics… to the public, he’s a refreshing contradiction to the stereotypes about physicists: a safe-cracking, bongo-playing, mildly philandering non-conformist.” Feynman is also famous, or infamous, for his role in the Manhattan Project and the building of the first atomic bomb, after which the FBI kept tabs on him to make sure he wouldn't, like his colleague Klaus Fuchs, turn over nuclear secrets to the Soviets.

He may have led an exceptionally eventful life for an academic scientist, but to his students, he was first and foremost “an exceptionally skillful teacher… for his uncanny ability to make complicated topics feel natural and approachable.” Feynman’s teaching has since influenced millions of readers of his wildly popular memoirs and his lecture series, recorded at Caltech and published in three volumes in the early 1960s. (Also see his famous course taught at Cornell.) For decades, Feynman fans could list offhand several examples of the physicist’s acumen for explaining complex ideas in simple, but not simplistic, terms.




But it wasn’t until the mid-nineties that the public had access to one of the finest of his Caltech lectures. Discovered in the 1990s and first published in 1996, the “lost lecture”—titled “The Motion of the Planets Around the Sun”—“uses nothing more than advanced high school geometry to explain why the planets orbit the sun elliptically rather than in perfect circles," as the Amazon description summarizes. You can purchase a copy for yourself, or hear it Feynman deliver for free just below.

Feynman gave the talk as the guest speaker in a 1964 freshman physics class. He addresses them, he says, “just for the fun of it"; none of the material would be on the test. Nevertheless, he ended up hosting an informal 20-minute Q&A afterwards. Given his audience, Feynman assumes only the most basic prior knowledge of the subject: an explanation for why the planets make elliptical orbit around the sun. “It ultimately has to do with the inverse square law,” says Sanderson, “but why?”

Part of the problem with the lecture, as its discoverers David and Judith Goodstein—husband and wife physicist and archivist at Caltech—found, involves Feynman’s extensive reference to figures he draws on the blackboard. It took some time for the two to dig these diagrams up in a set of class notes. In Sanderson’s video at the top, we get something perhaps even better: animated physical representations of the mathematics that determine planetary motion. We need not know this math in depth to grasp what Feynman calls his “elementary” explanation.

“Elementary” in this case, despite common usage, does not mean “easy,” Feynman says. It means “that very little is required to know ahead of time in order to understand it, except to have an infinite amount of intelligence.” That last part is a typical bit of humor. Even those of who haven’t pursued math or physics much beyond the high school level can learn the basic outlines of planetary motion in Feynman’s witty lecture, supplemented by the video visual aids Sanderson offers at the top.

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Richard Feynman on the Bongos

Richard Feynman Plays the Bongos

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Neil deDrasse Tyson Teaches Scientific Thinking and Communication in a New Online Course

One doesn't normally get into astrophysics for the fame. But sometimes one gets famous anyway, as has astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Center for Earth and Space. But that title doesn't even hint at the scope of his public-facing ventures, from the columns he's written in magazines like Natural History and StarDate to his hosting of television shows like NOVA and the sequel to Carl Sagan's Cosmos to his podcast StarTalk and his high-profile social media presence. Has any other figure in the annals of science communication been as prolific, as outspoken, and as willing to talk to anyone and do anything?

Here on Open Culture, we've featured Tyson recommending booksgiving a brief history of everythingdelivering "the greatest science sermon ever," chatting about NASA's flyby of Pluto with Stephen Colbert, "performing" in a Symphony of Science video, inventing a physics-based wrestling move in high schoollooking hip in grad schooldefending science in 272 wordsbreaking down the genius of Isaac Newtontalking non-Newtonian solids with a nine-year-olddiscussing the history of video gamescreating a video game with Neil Gaiman and George R.R. Martinselecting the most astounding fact about the universeexplaining the importance of arts education alongside David Byrnepondering whether the universe has a purposedebating whether or not we live in a simulationremembering when first he met Carl Saganinterviewing Stephen Hawking just days before the latter's death, and of course, moonwalking.

Now comes Tyson's latest media venture: a course from Masterclass, the online education company that specializes in bringing big names from various fields in front of the camera and getting them to tell us what they know. (Other teachers include Malcolm Gladwell, Steve Martin, and Werner Herzog.) "Neil DeGrasse Tyson Teaches Scientific Thinking and Communication," whose trailer you can watch above, gets into subjects like the scientific method, the nature of skepticism, cognitive and cultural bias, communication tactics, and the inspiration of curiosity. "There's, like, a gazillion hours of me on the internet," admits Tyson, and though none of those may cost $90 USD (or $180 for an all-access pass to all of Masterclass' offerings), in none of them has he taken on quite the goal he does in his Masterclass: to teach how to "not only find objective truth, but then communicate to others how to get there. It's not good enough to be right. You also have to be effective."

Note: MasterClass is currently running a holiday special where two people can get an annual pass to the entire MasterClass course catalog for the price of one. Get details on that here.

If you sign up for a MasterClass course by clicking on the affiliate links in this post, Open Culture will receive a small fee that helps support our operation.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The Phenomena of Physics Illustrated with Psychedelic Art in an Influential 19th-Century Textbook

The science of optics and the fine art of science illustration arose together in Europe, from the early black-and-white color wheel drawn by Isaac Newton in 1704 to the brilliantly hand-colored charts and diagrams of Goethe in 1810. Goethe’s illustrations are more renowned than Newton’s, but both inspired a considerable number of scientific artists in the 19th century. It would take a science writer, the French journalist and mathematician Amédée Guillemin, to fully grasp the potential of illustration as a means of conveying the mind-bending properties of light and color to the general public.

Guillemin published the hugely popular textbook Les phénomènes de la physique in 1868, eventually expanding it into a five-volume physics encyclopedia. (View and download a scanned copy at the Wellcome Collection.) He realized that in order to make abstract theories “comprehensible” to lay readers, Maria Popova writes at Brain Pickings, “he had to make their elegant abstract mathematics tangible and captivating for the eye. He had to make physics beautiful.” Guillemin commissioned artists to make 31 colored lithographs, 80 black-and-white plates, and 2,012 illustrated diagrams of the physical phenomena he described.

The most “psychedelic-looking illustrations,” notes the Public Domain Review, are by Parisian intaglio printer and engraver René Henri Digeon and “based on images made by the physicist J. Silbermann showing how light waves look when they pass through various objects, ranging from a bird’s feather to crystals mounted and turned in tourmaline tongs.”




Digeon also illustrated the “spectra of various light sources, solar, stellar, metallic, gaseous, electric,” above, and created a color wheel, further down, based on a classification system of French chemist Michel Eugène Chevreul.

Many of Digeon’s images “were used to explain the phenomenon of birefringence, or double refraction,” the Public Domain Review writes (hence the double rainbow). In addition to his striking plates, this section of the book also includes the image of the soap bubble above, by artist M. Rapine, based on a painting by Alexandre-Blaise Desgoffe.

[The artists’] subjects were not chosen haphazardly. Newton was famously interested in the iridescence of soap bubbles. His observations of their refractive capacities helped him develop the undulatory theory of light. But he was no stranger to feathers either. In the Opticks (1704), he noted with wonder that, “by looking on the Sun through a Feather or black Ribband held close to the Eye, several Rain-bows will appear.”

In turn, Guillemin’s lavishly illustrated encyclopedia continues to influence scientific illustrations of light and color spectra. “In order thus to place itself in communion with Nature,” he wrote, “our intelligence draws from two springs, both bright and pure, and equally fruitful—Art and Science.” See more art from the book at Brain Pickings and the Public Domain Review.

Related Content:

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Prado Museum Digitally Alters Four Masterpieces to Strikingly Illustrate the Impact of Climate Change

According to the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels between 2030 and 2052 should it continue to increase at its current rate.

What does this mean, exactly?

A catastrophic series of chain reactions, including but not limited to:

--Sea level rise
--Change in land and ocean ecosystems
--Increased intensity and frequency of weather extremes
--Temperature extremes on land
--Drought due to precipitation deficits
--Species loss and extinction

Look to the IPCC’s 2018 Special Report: Global Warming of 1.5°C for more specifics, or have a gander at these digital updates of masterpieces in Madrid’s Museo del Prado's collections.




The museum collaborated with the World Wildlife Fund, choosing four paintings to be altered in time for the recently wrapped Madrid Climate Change Conference.

Artist Julio Falagan brings extreme drought to bear on El Paso de la Laguna Estigia (Charon Crossing the Styx) by Joachim Patinir, 1520 - 1524

Marta Zafra raises the sea level on Felipe IV a Caballo (Philip the IV on Horseback) by Velázquez, circa 1635.

The Parasol that supplies the title for Francisco de Goya’s El Quitasol of 1777 becomes a tattered umbrella barely sheltering miserable, crowded refugees in the sodden, makeshift camp of Pedro Veloso’s reimagining.

And the Niños en la Playa captured relaxing on the beach in 1909 by Joaquín Sorolla now compete for space with dead fish, as observed by artist Conspiracy 110 years further along.

None of the original works are currently on display.

It would be a public service if they were, alongside their drastically retouched twins and perhaps Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights, to further unnerve viewers about the sort of hell we'll soon be facing if we, too, don’t make some major alterations.

For now the works in the +1.5ºC Lo Cambia Todo (+1.5ºC Changes Everything) project are making an impact on giant billboards in Madrid, as well as online.

#LoCambiaTodo

via Colossal

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, January 6 when her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domaincelebrates Cape-Coddities by Roger Livingston Scaife (1920). Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Plants Emit High-Pitched Sounds When They Get Cut, or Stressed by Drought, a New Study Shows

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Are plants sentient? We know they sense their environments to a significant degree; like animals, they can "see" light, as a New Scientist feature explains. They “live in a very tactile world,” have a sense of smell, respond to sound, and use taste to “sense danger and drought and even to recognize relatives.” We’ve previously highlighted research here on how trees talk to each other with chemical signals and form social bonds and families. The idea sets the imagination running and might even cause a little paranoia. What are they saying? Are they talking about us?

Maybe we deserve to feel a little uneasy around plant life, given how ruthlessly our consumer economies exploit the natural world. Now imagine we could hear the sounds plants make when they’re stressed out. In addition to releasing volatile chemicals and showing “altered phenotypes, including changes in color, smell, and shape,” write the authors of a new study published at bioRxiv, it’s possible that plants “emit airborne sounds [their emphasis] when stressed—similarly to many animals.”




The researchers who tested this hypothesis at Tel Aviv University “found that tomato and tobacco plants made sounds at frequencies humans cannot hear,” New Scientist reports. “Microphones placed 10 centimetres from the plants picked up sounds in the ultrasonic range of 20 to 100 kilohertz, which the team say insects and some mammals would be capable of hearing and responding to from as far as 5 metres away.”

The plants made these sounds when stressed by lack of water or when their stems were cut. Tomato plants stressed by drought made an average of 35 sounds per hour. Tobacco plants, on average, made 11. Unstressed plants, by contrast, “produced fewer than one sound per hour.” The scientists used machine learning to distinguish between different kinds of distress calls, as it were, and different kinds of plants, “correctly identifying in most cases whether the stress was caused by dryness or a cut,” and they conducted the experiments in both closed acoustic chambers and a greenhouse.

Plants do not, of course, have vocal cords or auditory systems. But they do experience a process known as “cavitation,” in which “air bubbles form, expand and explode in the xylem, causing vibrations,” the paper explains. These vibrations have been recorded in the past by direct, contact-based methods. This new study, which has yet to pass peer review, might be the first to show how plants might use sound to communicate with each other and with other living organisms, suggesting “a new modality of signaling.”

The possibilities for future research are fascinating. We might learn, for example, that “if plants emit sounds in response to a caterpillar attack, predators such as bats could use these sounds to detect attacked plants and prey on the herbivores, thus assisting the plant.” And just as trees are able to respond to each other's distress when they’re connected in a forest, “plants could potentially hear their drought stressed or injured neighbors and react accordingly”—however that might be.

Much remains to be learned about the sensory lives of plants. Whether their active calls and responses to the stimuli around them are indicative of a kind of consciousness seems like a philosophical as much as a biological question. But “even if the emission of the sounds is entirely involuntary,” the researchers write (seeming to leave room for plant volition), it’s a phenomenon that counts as a form of communication: maybe even what we might someday call plant language, different from species to species and, perhaps, between individual plants themselves.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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