Scanning electron microscopes will blow your mind

How do we see things that are really small? Classical microscope technology can let us see all but the tiniest of objects, but some are so minuscule as to evade our eyes. Enter the Scanning Electron Microscope. This marvel of math and engineering fires a stream of electrons and measures the way they bounce off objects. This data reveals the topology of what the electrons hit, producing precise recreations of surfaces. These images give us insight to an alien world on the smallest of scales. Check out the following images of the world beyond our eyes.

Scanning Electron Microscope Cool Insect Tiny Cells Scary Science Weekly Show

A worker ant.

Scanning Electron Microscope Cool Insect Tiny Cells Scary Science Weekly Show

Surgical mesh.

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Misconceptions about evolution: why species are not “getting better”

Evolution of Mario Video Games Nintendo NES WII N64 Gamecube Sunshine Brawl Super Bros Weekly Show

Part 5 in a series. Click here for part 4: why natural selection is not random

Things have felt a bit different lately. Perhaps it’s the weather. Maybe it’s the new baseball season. No? Oh, I’ve got it—it’s been too long since we had a Misconceptions About Evolution!

Evolution of Mario Video Games Nintendo NES WII N64 Gamecube Sunshine Brawl Super Bros Weekly Show

Oftentimes, the older version of a mascot or species seems better. Things were simpler back then.

My freshman year of college I had a floormate named Steve. Steve’s man goal in life was to get better—no matter the subject, his aim was to come out more accomplished than he came in. Everything Steve did had this goal in mind—he studied, exercised, and ate with more fervor than the competition, and sure enough he became slightly better. Well done, Steve.

Many see evolution in the same light. Species are constantly getting better, improving themselves to become evolutionarily superior…except not quite. Much like Steve’s devotion to self-improvement, there is much more to this than meets the eye.

Why species are not “getting better”

Let’s recall the basic ideas behind evolution. Over time a species’ genetic makeup changes. These alterations stem from mutations, outside pressures, and statistical phenomena. While many of these changes have little effect, some can increase an individual’s chances of survival and reproduction. Let’s use the example of a fish with improved eyesight. Our seafaring friend will be able to better identify food and predators, which will in turn increase his odds of survival.

As our fish reproduces, some of his offspring carry his new trait. These little fish again survive more often than the others, and in time a sizable portion of the fish population will have better eyesight. This is the beauty of natural selection. So far, it seems the Steve analogy applies—our fish friends are getting better.

Now imagine the lake experiences an algae outbreak. Microorganisms cloud the surface, cloaking the water in darkness. Our fishes’ eyesight, previously an optimal trait, can hardly make out anything at all. This is a bad day to be a fish. Any that relied on eyesight will either starve or find themselves in the belly of a predator.

So what happened? Even though the fish’s vision allowed it to thrive in direct sunlight, it became useless in the dark. An ability advantageous in one situation proved ineffective in another. This is the key to understanding natural selection—species adapt to their environments. This includes everything from amount of sunlight to terrain and predators. Unfortunately for Steve, “getting better” has no meaning in natural selection.

As for our fish friends, their future is uncertain. Maybe individuals with better hearing will find higher rates of survival in the new world. Perhaps the population will die out. It all depends on the fishes’ surroundings and which traits ensure higher chances of survival.

So there’s a bit of Misconceptions About Evolution to brighten your day. Is this surprising? Confusing? Remarkably good looking? Let me know in the comments below. As always—you know the drill, so please share, like, comment, and subscribe if you like the post! Thanks for reading! Don’t forget to subscribe for new content every Wednesday. IT’S FREE!

Comment question of the week

Are human beings currently “getting better?” Why or why not?

You might also like:

Misconceptions About Evolution: Why Natural Selection Is Not Random

Everything In Science Is Wrong

Misconceptions About Evolution: Why Transitional Fossils Exist

In the news:

When Evolution’s Controversial, Declaring a State Fossil Can Get Tricky (Smithsonian)

10 Ways Life Has Adapted to Its Environment (Discovery)

Congressional Candidate Claims He’s Running to Stop Schools From Teaching Evolution (ThinkProgress)

Could we be The Last of Us?

Clicker The Last of Us Fungus Infected Playstation Game Year Joel Ellie Real Life Science Weekly Show

Last year, Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us took the gaming world by storm. It tells a story of a man and a child journeying through a post-apocalyptic America, fighting off infected humans and scavengers along the way. The holocaust stems from a strange fungus that has caught humanity off guard. It infects the brain, slowly taking control of the host until it becomes a zombie, solely focused on spreading new spores until it dies. If you haven’t played The Last of Us, stop reading this blog and play it now. If you have, here’s a question: could The Last of Us happen in real life?

Clicker The Last of Us Fungus Infected Playstation Game Year Joel Ellie Real Life Science Weekly Show

Could this be to us?

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The truth about high-fructose corn syrup

High Fructose Corn Syrup Health Truth Bad Terrible Death Heart Fat Obesity Weekly Show

If you took part in the soft drink industry pre-1977, you probably remember pull-tabs, awesome Coke ads, and that beautiful, sugar flavor. You see, back in the good old days soft-drink manufacturers sweetened their beverages with pure beet and cane sugar. Coke and Pepsi may have contained their share of additives, but as far as sweetness was concerned they were all natural.

In 1977, however, a string of sugar tariffs and quotas drove US prices to new highs. Soft drink giants Coca-Cola and Pepsi Co. saw profits slide as the cost of sugar ate into their margins. Naturally, the companies turned their attention toward cheaper alternatives, which they found in the form of high-fructose corn syrup. The sweetener, a simple alteration to regular corn syrup, provides almost identical taste for a fraction of the cost. The rest of the food industry soon caught on, and high-fructose corn syrup has become a staple on supermarket shelves.

High Fructose Corn Syrup Health Truth Bad Terrible Death Heart Fat Obesity Weekly Show

Believe it or not, high-fructose corn syrup sweetens an overwhelming proportion of American foods.

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