Thanks to their music and ongoing support of the rainforests of South America, Radiohead have been honoured with the naming of a newly discovered species of fungus farming ant. The silky ants grow fungi as food, much like we grow crops. They've been doing it for four million years though, which in fact is quite a short period of time for an ant species.
An evolutionary newcomer, this rapid radiation of species is one of many varieties of similar creatures found foraging the undergrowth in the Amazon. Sericomyrmex Radioheadi is one of three new species of ant discovered, this one in particular from the Venezuelan rainforests.
They are unusual in the way that the females including the queen and workers all carry a second skin which has the appearance of crystalline fibres. It's unknown what they're made of or why they're there but speculation suggests that it is microbial in origin and acts as some kind of immune system like our commensal bacteria works for us.
The electron microscope reveals that the silky fibres are actually many hairs of various sizes and lengths. Other ants are known to keep bacteria around them which prevents parasites and other invasive species. These are not present in the silky ants colonies but neither are the typical unwanted things that bother the other ants.
The DNA sequencing of the species have revealed the triple branch in this particular ant tree. It was previously thought to be just one. Now scientists are considering the likelihood of there being more species that have yet to be catalogued.
The full study is available here, and you can check out some interesting ecology courses here.
Recess 'Til the Finnish
A catchy education style is taking hold in the United States thanks to the groundbreaking work within the pages of a new book about the Finnish technique of educating youths and children. Anthony Pellagrini, author of “Recess: Its Role in Education and Development” has brought the European theology of schooling to other shores in an attempt to bring realisable solutions to the 'feet dragging' and 'uninterested' students in typical American schools.
Implementing regular short breaks for play and recreation somehow opens doors to new energy and interests that usually would remain behind locked doors while the pupils sit through one and three quarter hour stretches of solid learning. Apparently, by breaking these portions up even further and allowing extra breaks, more learning is actually done which is the goal of a school to begin with. It also hands a few extra minutes over to teaching staff to work through marking and other necessary paperwork.
In East Asian schools, providing ten to fifteen minute breaks every forty minutes is common practice, and it allows students to enter new lessons with a sense of fresh perspective and eagerness to settle in. Finnish schools began the same method a few years ago and it has become a much appreciated addition to school routine for both staff and pupils.
The U.S. Education department decided to test the recess to learning ratios independently and discovered that focus reduced as breaks were delayed, meaning regular short breaks kept focus at maximum levels. What appears to be common sense in many nations already at least has evidence to back it up courtesy of this investigation. The research is ongoing, and perhaps in a few years time when undeniable proof can be presented, the students of tomorrow may get a better break.
Hungary For Free Education
Last Sunday on the 9th of April, up to 70,000 passionate Hungarians turned out to demand free education. They also had a clear message of support for the Central European University, which under new legislation could be forced out. Because its American-Hungarian financier, George Soros, has the institution registered in the United States, new laws would see the facility as illegal.
Activist and CEU student Daniel Berg is reported to have said “I think this is about freedom of knowledge, freedom of thinking, the free expression”. The quickly drawn up laws are yet to be signed by the Prime Minister Viktor Orban, it has been suggested that the right wing leader is willingly cracking down on sources of dissident behaviour.
This is one of the largest demonstrations Hungary has seen in modern days, and with so many people protesting about one key issue, the government may have to rethink their policy on this global institution of learning. It just goes to show that rushing knee jerk laws in without looking at the holistic consequences of their enforcement leaves politicians wide open for public dissatisfaction.
According to a report from the Royal Academy of Engineering, schools need to concentrate less on teaching subjects and fix more attention on problem solving. We are experiencing a lack of engineering talent, according to the experts, and by encouraging this type of mental process at school it will hopefully result in a new wave of young talent in the field.
Schools have been asked to “rethink” (Prof Bill Lucas, Winchester, BBC) their approach to teaching the physical sciences and mathematics. There is also call for people already in the field of engineering to spend some time with the younger generation to fuel interest in the subject.
As populations rise, the demands on the planet and each other increase with every new individual. Of course, we all bring our unique gifts and talents with us, and raising populations can also mean great things but there is also a strain on the environment and resources to keep up. Engineering is the only subject that can offer real life fixes to some of the major problems we are facing.
Being the one to invent the next world changing technology, being the person to discover tomorrows technique for disposing of poisonous waste, or being the person to invent a new material that can house people at little cost, these are all incredible opportunities that wait for someone to find. It's vital that if the human race is to begin making amends to the planet Earth for all the debauching done over the past few hundred years since the industrial revolution, we must begin teaching the young how to think like a problem solver.
Being able to see patterns, see problems, and dedicate time to thinking about how what we know can do something new and helpful, is something that many of us are able to do. The tool kit is a critical mind and an appreciation for nature. Only when we stifle children with books worth of facts and figures but give them no tools for using them in life, do we cut off the route to progress. It's not up to us to let others think for us, it's up to us to teach others how to think for themselves.
Rowan Blair Colver for Alternative Fruit
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