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The Incubator Celebrating International Women’s Day – March 8th, 2013

Evolution by Aesthetic Design

By Maryam Zaringhalam, @thisisartlab Biological evolution is the change in gene frequencies in populations over successive generations through forces like mutation, natural selection, and genetic drift. But at its most basic conceptual level, evolution is simply change over time. Since life is not stagnant, but perpetually moving forward, we can make analogies between evolution and just about anything we experience. But how can we use these analogies to glean something meaningful about our experiences? In an experiment called DarwinTunes, bioinformatician Robert MacCallum at Imperial College London put the analogy into practice in an attempt to evolve music from noise.  By applying basic evolutionary principles, he hoped to gain some insight into what aural // aesthetic forces underlie audience experience of music. For musical evolution to proceed, MacCullum and his team first generated a population of noises—the origin for [Darwinian] musicality to come. Because the origin of life was devoid of any human intervention, they used an algorithm to generate a series of computer programs, or "digital genomes," thereby limiting their influence on the generative process. Just as our DNA genomes hold all the information needed to build us, each program specifies how to build a particular short sound loop by determining

Jumping species: How HIV entered our world

By Laura Seeholzer Monkey poop: a scientific goldmine Have you ever wondered what mysteries primate poop could unlock? No? Me neither. But luckily, Dr. Beatrice Hahn did. Dr. Hahn was deeply curious about the origin and evolution of HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) so, naturally, her path lead to poop. Don’t see the connection? Well, during Dr. Hahn’s recent visit to The Rockefeller University, she walked us down the poop path toward some astounding conclusions. Why monkeys? When HIV was identified in 1983, researchers almost immediately suspected that the virus came from non-human primates. This suspicion was heightened when a team of researchers found AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), the fatal final stage of HIV, in a captive colony of macaque monkeys. Over the last two decades, Dr. Hahn’s team has shown that HIV originated in a sub-species of chimpanzee. But how did they solve this mystery? HIV in Humans HIV is diagnosed in humans by looking for antibodies against the virus in the blood and saliva. When infectious agents like viruses or bacteria enter our body, our immune system generates antibodies that help destroy the invaders. Importantly, each of the thousands of antibodies we make generally recognizes one type

On the Importance of Fun

By Dan Gareau, @LASER_Beam This guy knew how to have fun. Science is a creative process and scientists are creative people who like to have fun... but scientists are not known for being flashy. A paper in Cell or Nature is typically where scientists stop and where the threshold of “success” has been set. However, there is another direction that is rarely taken: distilling and polishing scientific content for non-scientists. When scientists do more to explain how science relates to nearly every aspect of our lives, the results are far-reaching. Take the popular blog, “It’s Okay to Be Smart,” and the graduate student behind it, Joe Hanson. In just over a year, Joe managed to provide enough valuable content to land him on Time magazine’s 2012 list of must-see Tumblrs, and eventually helped him get his own YouTube show on science. His effort is helping to raise public awareness of science, and to show that science is, in fact, cool. But, Joe is only one scientist out of many that actually speaks to a broad audience. Why don't more scientists do this? The problem is that science is hard, and communicating science to a general audience takes a

Welcome to ArtLab

By Maryam Zaringhalam Photo taken from Iain McGilchrist’s TED talk “The Divided Brain” Oversimplification is the kryptonite of any scientific idea, oftentimes turning pop science into an elaborate game of telephone, carelessly paring away all the nuances and caveats that make the idea so impactful in the first place. The lateralization of the brain, first studied by Michael Gazzaniga and Roger Walcott Sperry in the 1960s, has been perhaps the biggest victim of bastardization by oversimplification. The left brain//right brain divide has been pigeonholing folks for decades now, neatly sorting us into the science-oriented versus the artistically-inclined. The rational male versus the emotional female. The *Spocks* versus the *Kirks*. The practical, ordered, and scientific world is the territory of the left brain, while the imaginative, aesthetic, artistic world is the right brain’s domain… … the problem with such a black-and-white picture is that it doesn’t account for all the grey in your grey matter. Sure, neuroscientists agree that the right hemisphere sees the bigger, interconnected picture, and that the left hemisphere picks out details and organizes information to create a sort of rule-bound world. However, regardless of whether math or science or business or literature or philosophy is