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Conjurer's Kitchen

14 Cakes Inspired By Scientific Concepts

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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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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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