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Conjurer's Kitchen
Conjurer's Kitchen

14 Cakes Inspired By Scientific Concepts

Conjurer's Kitchen
Conjurer's Kitchen

We already featured anatomical cakes, which are great for anyone obsessed with biology, but if you’re interested in any other scientific fields, don’t worry—there are plenty of cakes for you too. From geology to physics, we’ve got all sorts of scientifically inspired confections to satisfy your educated sweet tooth.

1. Earth’s Internal Structure

The realistic depiction of our planet's landmasses on this cake is pretty impressive—but the realism doesn't stop there. Slice the cake open, and it reveals the interior composition of the Earth’s core. It’s hard to think of a better way for a teacher to present the topic to a group of elementary school students, which is precisely what LiveJournal user Cake Crumbs’ sister did with the tasty creation. The lesson was fun and delicious!

2. Geological Stratigraphy

Here’s another tasty treat showing what’s underneath the surface of our planet—only this time, the cake focuses on the immediate layers of sediment just below our feet. While it’s no doubt scientific, Flickr user Khol?’s design was actually part of the Threadcakes competition, which involves turning Threadless tee shirts into cakes (in this case, the shop’s Geology shirt).

3. The Solar System

It would be easy to make cake pops representing the solar system. But the fact that these pops—made by Paper, Plate and Plane—feature swirled surfaces on all of the gas giants make these sweet solar system treats orbit worlds above the competition.

4. The Sun’s Active Regions in Multi-Wavelengths

Ain’t no party like a NASA party cause a NASA party features cakes that show active regions of the sun in multi wavelengths! Yes, this cake was actually prepared by a scientist working at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center for the center’s 2010 annual Sciences & Exploration Directorate (SED) New Year's Poster Party.

5. Coronal Mass Ejection

This interesting coronal mass ejection cake creation was part of NASA’s 2011 Science Poster Party and ended up winning first place in the Science as Food category. If you’re wondering about the equipment beside the cake and the demonstration time beside it, this cake went on to be an experiment involving some kind of burst of air erupting from the orange mass. While I don’t know exactly what happened, I’m sure it was messy based on the photo of the experiment as it began.

6. Canine Facial Anatomy

NASA workers aren’t the only professionals creating science-based cakes involving their careers. The Nottingham Veterinary School created a whole series of odd and gory cakes based on their profession as a fundraiser for Red Nose Day. Here is one student’s confectionary take on the superficial facial muscles of a canine. Personally, I’m particularly impressed by the seriously realistic-looking teeth.

7. A Canine Testicle

Here’s another cake by The Nottingham Veterinary School, this time depicting something vets see all too often –the testicle of a dog. At least it looks more like a medical illustration than the real thing.

8. One Very Dead Sheep

This oh-so-cheerful culinary creation by another Nottingham Veterinary School student depicts a dead sheep beside a snail and what is presumably either an infected organ or a diagram of a particular virus-infected cell. Whatever the thing beside the sheep, this piece won the prize for best depiction of an infection. According to the photo’s notes, it was also very moist and had a rich, deep chocolate flavor.

9. An Animal Cell

DeviantArt user NicholeWilliam created this tasty model of a cell as part of an assignment for her Biology 330 class. The piece is even more impressive when you learn that it was her first attempt at using fondant.

10. Failed Abdominal Surgery

This cake, featuring a failed abdominal surgery, was created for a company that designs the computer game “Surgical Simulator 2013.” While the surgery might be a failure, the cake sure isn’t—it not only looks great, but also features intestines made with removable truffles. The brilliantly bloody masterpiece was created by Conjurer’s Kitchen.

11. Anatomical Wax Model

Conjurer’s Kitchen has actually made quite a few weird anatomy cakes, though the most impressive may be their set that looks just like anatomical wax models, including a head, an arm, and a chest section.

12. The Periodic Table of Cupcakes

Photo courtesy of Rosanne Cook

In 2009, The Chemical Heritage Foundation held a party to celebrate the first anniversary of their museum opening. To celebrate, they commissioned this Periodic Table of Cupcakes by Jennifer McCafferty of JPM Catering in Ardmore, PA.

13. Schrödinger’s Cat

Is the cat inside a box dead or alive? According to Schrodinger and Cake Guru, it is simultaneously alive and dead, as illustrated in this delightful cake.

14. A Microscope and Fruit Flies

CakeCentral user doughking has a daughter who is a biology major at California State Long Beach and requested her dad make her a science cake for her birthday. He certainly did not disappoint when he presented her with an impressive microscope cake accompanied by fruit fly cake pops. They may not be the tastiest-looking treats around, but they are certainly scientific.

Sure, baking is a science, but baking cakes that actually look scientific is an entirely different discipline. What scientific concepts would you like to see illustrated in sugary goodness? I’d still really like to see a Large Hadron Collider cake myself.

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DNA Analysis of Loch Ness Could Reveal the Lake's Hidden Creatures
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Stakeouts, sonar studies, and a 24-hour video feed have all been set up in an effort to confirm the existence of the legendary Loch Ness Monster. Now, the Associated Press reports that an international team of scientists will use DNA analysis to learn what's really hiding in the depths of Scotland's most mysterious landmark.

The team, led by Neil Gemmell, who researches evolutionary genetics at the University of Otago in New Zealand, will collect 300 water samples from various locations and depths around the lake. The waters are filled with microscopic DNA fragments animals leave behind as they swim, mate, eat, poop, and die in the waters, and if Nessie is a resident, she's sure to leave bits of herself floating around as well.

After extracting the DNA from the organic material found in the water samples, the scientists plan to sequence it. The results will then be compared to the DNA profiles of known species. If there's evidence of an animal that's not normally found in the lake, or an entirely new species, the researchers will hopefully spot it.

Gemmell is a Nessie skeptic, and he says the point of the project isn't necessarily to discover new species. Rather, he wants to create a genetic profile of the lake while generating some buzz around the science behind it.

If the study goes according to plan, the database of Loch Ness's inhabitants should be complete by 2019. And though the results likely won't include a long-extinct plesiosaur, they may offer insights about other invasive species that now call the lake home.

[h/t AP]

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Essential Science
What Is Death?
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The only thing you can be certain about in life is death. Or is it? Merriam-Webster defines death as "a permanent cessation of all vital functions." The Oxford English dictionary refines that to "the permanent ending of vital processes in a cell or tissue." But determining when someone is dead is surprisingly complicated—the medical definition has changed over the centuries and, in many ways, is still evolving.

DEATH, DEFINED

For most of human history, doctors relied on basic observations to determine whether or not a person had died. (This may be why so many feared being buried alive and went to great lengths to ensure they wouldn't be.) According to Marion Leary, the director of innovation research for the Center for Resuscitation Science at the University of Pennsylvania, "If a person wasn't visibly breathing, if they were cold and bluish in color, for example, they would be considered dead."

As time went on, the markers for death changed. Before the mid-1700s, for example, people were declared dead when their hearts stopped beating—a conclusion drawn from watching traumatic deaths such as decapitations, where the heart seemed to be the last organ to give up. But as our understanding of the human body grew, other organs, like the lungs and brain, were considered metrics of life—or death.

Today, that remains true to some degree; you can still be declared dead when your heart and lungs cease activity. And yet you can also be declared dead if both organs are still working, but your brain is not.

In most countries, being brain dead—meaning the whole brain has stopped working and cannot return to functionality—is the standard for calling death, says neuroscientist James Bernat, of the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. "A doctor has to show that the loss of brain function is irreversible," he tells Mental Floss. In some cases, a person can appear to be brain dead if they have overdosed on certain drugs or have suffered from hypothermia, for example, but the lack of activity is only temporary—these people aren't truly brain dead.

In the U.S., all states follow some form of the Uniform Determination of Death Act, which in 1981 defined a dead person as "an individual who has sustained either (1) irreversible cessation of circulatory and respiratory functions, or (2) irreversible cessation of all functions of the entire brain, including the brain stem."

But that's not the end of the story. In two states, New York and New Jersey, families can reject the concept of brain death if it goes against their religious beliefs. This makes it possible for someone to be considered alive in some states and dead in others.

A BLURRED LINE

In the past, if one of a person's three vital systems—circulation, respiration, and brain function—failed, the rest would usually stop within minutes of each other, and there was no coming back from that. But today, thanks to technological advances and medical breakthroughs, that's no longer necessarily the case. CPR can be performed to restart a heartbeat; a person who has suffered cardiac arrest can often be resuscitated within a 20- to 30-minute window (in rare cases, people have been revived after several hours). And since the 1950s, machines have been used to take on the role of many of the body's vital functions. People who stop breathing naturally can be hooked up to ventilators to move air in and out of their lungs, for example.

While remarkable, this life-extending technology has blurred the line between life and death. "A person can now have certain characteristics of being alive and others of being dead," Bernat says.

People with severe, irreversible brain damage fall into this mixed category. Many lie in intensive care units where ventilators breathe for them, but because they have minimal reflexes or movements, they're considered alive, especially by their families. Medical professionals, however, may disagree, leading to painful and complex debates about whether someone is alive.

Take the case of Jahi McMath, whose tonsil surgery in 2013, at age 13, went terribly wrong, leaving her brain dead—or so doctors thought. Her family refused to believe she was dead and moved her from Oakland, California, to New Jersey, where she was provided with feeding tubes in addition to her ventilator. After several months, her mother began recording videos that she said were proof that Jahi could move different parts of her body when asked to. Additional brain scans revealed that although some parts of her brain, like her brain stem, were largely destroyed, the structure of large parts of her cerebrum, which is responsible for consciousness, language, and voluntary movements, was intact. Her heart rate also changed when her mother spoke, leading a neurologist to declare last year, after viewing many of her mother's videos, that she is technically alive—nearly four years after she was pronounced brain dead. By her mother's reckoning, Jahi turned 17 on October 24, 2017.

Organ donation adds another layer of complications. Since an organ needs to be transplanted as quickly as possible to avoid damage, doctors want to declare death as soon as they can after a person has been disconnected from a machine. The protocol is usually to wait for five minutes after a donor's heart and breathing have stopped. However, some believe that's not long enough, since the person could still be resuscitated at that point.

Bernat—whose research interests include brain death and the definition of death, consciousness disorders including coma and vegetative states, and ethical and philosophical issues in neurology—disagrees. "I would argue that breathing and circulation has permanently ceased even if it hasn't irreversibly ceased," he says. "It won't restart by itself."

THE FUTURE OF BRINGING PEOPLE BACK TO LIFE

As resuscitation technology improves, scientists may find new ways to reverse death. One promising approach is therapeutic hypothermia. Sometimes used on heart attack patients who have been revived, the therapy uses cooling devices to lower body temperature, usually for about 24 hours. "It improves a patient's chance of recovering from cardiac arrest and the brain injury [from a lack of oxygen] that can result from it," says Leary, who specializes in research and education relating to cardiac arrest, CPR quality, and therapeutic hypothermia.

One more out-there possibility—which had its heyday in the early 2000s but still has its proponents today—is cryonic freezing, in which dead bodies (and in some cases, just people's heads) are preserved in the hope that they can be brought back once technology advances. Just minutes after death, a cryonaut's body is chilled; a chest compression device called a thumper keeps blood flowing through the body, which is then shot up with anticoagulants to prevent blood clots from forming; and finally, the blood is flushed out and replaced with a kind of antifreeze to halt the cell damage that usually occurs from freezing.

The idea is highly controversial. "It makes a good story for a movie, but it seems crazy to me," Bernat says. "I don't think it's the answer." But even if cryogenics is out, Bernat does believe that certain types of brain damage now thought to be permanent could one day be subject to medical intervention. "There is currently a huge effort in many medical centers to study brain resuscitation," he says.

Genetics provides another potential frontier. Scientists recently found that some genes in mice and fish live on after they die. And even more surprisingly, other genes regulating embryonic development, which switch off when an animal is born, turn on again after death. We don't yet know if the same thing happens in humans.

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