Saturday, November 25, 2006

In which we discover that a) Red Square is not in Moscow; b) Thursday nights are free again; and c) rats like beer

This week was my last Modern Astronomy class on a Thursday night. I will miss it (although it does mean I may be able to start playing volleyball again), and I will miss all of the great speakers we heard and our discussions in the tea break.
This week we had the young and enthusiastic Peter Tuthill, the latest in a line of young and enthusiastic astronomers. (I didn't get around to reporting on our lecture from the young and enthusastic Laszlo Kiss last week, who was so endearing, bouncing on his toes as he introduced interesting facts about pulsating stars and leaping about at the front of the lecture theatre, speaking in melodic Hungarian-accented English.)
Peter Tuthill's talk was a demonstration of how a $200 aluminium plate, based on telescope technology from the mid-19th century, can actually produce higher resolution images of distant objects than that multi-billion dollar piece of space junk they call the Hubble Space Telescope. (Okay, not being very fair here. He didn't run down the Hubble like that: of course it has its uses.) Check out his web page (linked above) to see some amazing images that his little invention has produced, including the Red Rectangle. He also told us that he had just heard that very morning that a paper on his latest observations had been accepted by Science magazine -- a discussion of a galactic object he calles the Red Square.
In the tea break, our usual gang sat around and my fellow student, the Neuroscientist, told us about a paper he's submitted for publication on his latest experiment: beer-drinking rats. Seriously, it's an experiment designed to see what genetic and/or neurological expressions in the brain are involved in recidivism in alcoholics (or something like that).
First, he set up a little beer garden for the rats, with a "bar" where they had to go and push a lever to get beer. When they were all well and truly sozzled, he put them in a detox centre -- a different environment where they pushed the lever but didn't get any beer. Then, when they were thoroughly dried out and had given up pushing the lever, he put them back in the first beer garden to see how long it would take them to go back to the "bar". Turns out rats like beer so much they headed straight for the lever!
He showed me a bite on his finger, and I said, "Wow, they must really want their beer."
His reply: "This rat was from the cocaine experiment."
"I thought cocaine was supposed to make you happy."
"Not when you don't give it to them."
I couldn't help it. I had this mental image of a whole lot of drunk, stoned and hyped up rats hanging out at Madame Fling Flong's. I had to apologise profusely to the Neuroscientist for seeming to belittle his work by laughing at it.
The things you do in the name of science, eh? Oh, and it turns out that rats like Coopers.

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