Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

Macarena to Goose Stepping: Synchronized Movement Controls Your Brain

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012
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A new study proves that organizing activities where a group of people move in unison can create more concrete leader-follower relationships and be used as a tool for helpful cooperation or evil deeds.

In the experiment, participants were instructed to either walk in sync with an experimenter, out-of-step with them or simply alongside them at their own pace. They were then asked to gather as many bugs as possible in 30 seconds and put them into a device where they were told they’d die.

Those participants who walked in step with the same experimenter who later instructed them to kill the bugs put approximately 54 percent more bugs into the device than did those in the control condition. They also put 38 percent more bugs into the funnel than did participants in the coordinated but asynchronous condition and twice as many bugs into the funnel as did participants who walked in synchrony with a different experimenter than the one who instructed them to terminate the insects.

Synchronized action is used as a tool for many institutions including but not limited to: religious rituals, military exercises and Supermaning dat ho.

[Science Daily]

Scientists Recreate Spider Silk (50 Years After Teenager in Queens)

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012
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Listen kids. If you are reading this and you only know of Peter Parker and Spider-man because of the Sam Raimi films, let me break something to you.

Peter Parker didn’t start shooting webs out of his wrists as part of an overnight biological evolution after being bit by a radioactive arachnid. That’s just Hollywood fantasy. The real story is that the brainy Parker, having already woken up with super strength, agility and uncanny Spider Sense decided to augment his new natural gifts with his own scientific concoction. A sticky, strong, spider silk-esqe substance which he then shot out of home made mechanical dispensers triggered by a specific hand gesture.

The mechanical web shooters reinforces a key element of the Spider-man mythos. Peter Parker is a socially awkward kid because he’s a genius level science nerd. This matters! This is important! Yes! I am still furious about this 9 years after the first Spider-man movie came out!

Also, 50 years after the character was created scientists have finally caught up with Peter Parker and recreated spider silk by transferring key spider genes into silkworms which are far easier to farm the substance out of.

So they worked out a way to transfer the key spider genes responsible for the strong thread making into the silkworm.

The scientific breakthrough could open the door for large-scale production.

The silk could be used in many medical applications including artificial ligaments and tendons, as well as tough wound dressings.

It is also said to be strong enough that it could be used as a new material in manufacturing bulletproof vests.

Or shooting Mysterio in the face so you can make fun of his helmet.

[Sky]

The Future of Wheelchairs? Awesome Exoskeletons

Friday, January 6th, 2012
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The future is now. Amazing exoskeletons will be sold to consumers with spinal cord injuries for training, under doctor supervision for now, how to walk upright with the help of the device.

Your job is to balance your upper body, shifting your weight as you plant a walking stick on the right; your physical therapist will then use a remote control to signal the left leg to step forward. In a later model, the walking sticks will have motion sensors that communicate with the legs, allowing the user to take complete control.

Take a look at this bad boy in motion below.

[Kurzweil AI]

Are Pigeons as Smart as Primates?

Friday, December 23rd, 2011
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Oft-maligned as disease stuffed flying rats, pigeons tend to get a bad rap. But it looks like the city birds could be much smarter than we initially thought, or at the very least able to keep track of all the people calling them disease stuffed flying rats.

Pigeons may not be so bird-brained after all, as scientists have found the birds’ ability to understand numbers is on par with that of primates.

Previous studies have shown that various animals, from honeybees to chimpanzees, can learn to count when trained with food rewards. In 1998, researchers discovered that rhesus monkeys can not only learn to count to four, but can also pick up on numerical rules and apply them to numbers they haven’t seen before, allowing them to count up to nine without further training.

Add this alongside “friends with Mike Tyson” on the Cool Things About Pigeons list.

[Live Science]

Ice Shelf Gets Wired for Transcontinental Phone Calls

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011
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The Ross Ice Shelf is about as desolate as desolate can get. All you can hope to do is complete your research of the warming arctic water, survive and hope that one of your colleagues doesn’t turn into The Thing.

Now, the first of those tasks just got a bit easier. Scientists recently completed installation of a fiber optic cable which will periodically ring a modem in a New York University professors office delivering up to the second data without having to rely on a bunch of researchers who may or may not have already turned into The Thing.

[Live Science]

Study: Sexually Transmitted Disease Makes Your Armpits Stink Worse

Friday, December 9th, 2011

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Follow your nose! To a sexual partner not beset by disease!

A Russian study found that men dealing with gonorrhea has less attractive smelling armpit sweat than those without, therefore deterring potential mates.

In the study, armpit sweat was collected from 34 Russian men, ages 17 to 25. Thirteen of the men had gonorrhea, 16 were healthy, and five had had gonorrhea in the past, but recovered. The men wore T-shirts with cotton pads in the armpits for one hour, then the pads were placed in glass vials…

The women rated the infected men’s sweat as less than half as pleasant as the healthy men’s sweat. And the women said about 50 percent of men who had gonorrhea had sweat that smelled “putrid,” whereas only 32 percent of the healthy men were described as putrid. And while 26 percent of the healthy men smelled “floral,” just 10 percent of those with gonorrhea were described that way.

Researchers suggest that changes in the immune system could cause the alteration in sweat stink. I like to think of it as Mother Nature’s way of telling women, “Get away from him girl, he nasty.”

[Live Science]

New Illusion Demonstrates How Our Brains Construct A 3D Illusion From 2D Image

Thursday, December 8th, 2011
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New research has shown the there are specific, consistent patterns that create the illusion of 3D images in our brains. It is created by stimulating specific nerve cells. Researchers created a 2D image designed to excite those nerves specifically and found surprising results.

“We created the images by taking random noise and smearing it out across the image in specific patterns. It’s a bit like finger painting, except it’s done by computer”, explains Roland Fleming, Professor of Psychology at the University of Giessen. “The way the texture gets smeared out is not the way texture behaves in the real 3D world. But it allows us to selectively stimulate so-called ‘complex cells’ in visual cortex, which measure the local 2D orientation of patterns in the retinal image”.

The cells in question read boundaries in images.

[Medical Express]

The Cure For Male Pattern Baldness: Bears

Thursday, December 8th, 2011
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Are you suffering from male pattern baldness? Would you like to feel younger, more confident and regain your youthful swagger?

Why not take a note from the majestic bear! Yes, instead of turning to stem cell treatments one Dr. Cheng-Ming Chuong, a professor at the University of Southern California suggests we take a page from how our forrest friends regrow their winter coats.

…a treatment could aim at altering the environment around hair follicles, rather than implanting stem cells within them.

These outside signals that are present in animals are missing in people.

“This extra follicle-affecting factor has disappeared during human evolution,” so human hair follicles are activated only by signals internal to the hair follicle, Chuong told MyHealthNewsDaily.

Unconfirmed are reports that such a treatment would involve snagging a fish out of a moving stream with your mouth. But… you know… it couldn’t hurt.

[Live Science]

Do Our Brain Hemispheres Communicate With Electromagnetic Fields?

Saturday, October 22nd, 2011
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Are we moving closer to proving that electromagnetic fields help our brain hemispheres communicate?

Neuroscientists at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have made a puzzling finding: people born without a corpus callosum (which links the two hemispheres of the brain) — a condition called agenesis of the corpus callosum, or AgCC — still show remarkably normal communication across the gap between the two halves of their brains.

[Kurzweil AI]

Parasite Empowers Nebbish Wasps To Be Zombie Queens

Thursday, October 20th, 2011

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The social hierarchy of a wasp is pretty rigid. But what if a snide little parasite made you a deal. You could live the life of a queen, no foraging for anyone but yourself, living off the fat of the land. All you have to do is become subservient to a macabre march of death that enslaves your brethren and propagates the evil parasite.

For many paper wasps through Europe, the answer is “yes, please!”

The parasite X. vesparum infects the wasp which withdraw from their previous social pattern and instinctively fly away to a meeting point with other parasites. It’s there the parasites mate, with the male hosts disposing of their wasp coats, leaving them to die. But the females remain inside the wasps, turning them into zombie queens which find food for themselves and fatten up while infecting other nests and plants with the parasite larva.

“After that, they start wandering among the colonies,” spreading their deadly larval load, said Manfredini. “They don’t lay eggs. They don’t build colonies. They’re completely anarchic.”

Get your zombie queen paper wasp costume ready for Halloween!

[Wired]

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Rats Are Getting Digital Cerebellums

Tuesday, October 4th, 2011

Scientists at Tel Aviv University have successfully restored lost brain function to rats by implanting them with a prosthetic cerebellum.  The prosthetic works by receiving signals from the brainstem, decoding them, and then transmitting a signal to a different part of the brainstem that signals motor neurons to fire which provide information for the desired motion.  This was made possible for two main reasons.

 First, the cerebellum, among other things, coordinates muscle movement.  And secondly, the cerebellum is so well understood that some of the signals that it transmits are able to be replicated in circuitry.  The synthetic cerebellum was implemented in a chip that sat on the outside of the skull and then wired into the brain.  The whole thing was then tested by anaesthetisizing some rats and disabling their cerebellums (whatever that means).  Then when an audible tone was played, they would puff their eyes with air to make them blink until they would blink when only the tone was played.  

Without the prosthetic cerebellum connected, the rats were unable to learn this behavior.  But with it enabled, they would blink like Pavlov’s dog when just the tone was played.  Obviously, this is just a proof of concept and we are far from curing Alzheimer’s but this definitely a step in the right direction.

[New Scientist]

Research On Beetle’s Mating With Beer Bottles Among Winners Of Ig Noble Prize

Monday, October 3rd, 2011

This week the Nobel Prizes for the year 2011 will be announced. Last week another set of prizes, the Ig Nobels, were awarded to “honor achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think”. The entire webcast is available here.

Among this year’s winners:

Chemistry: Makoto Imai et al. for their invention of the wasabi alarm.

Biology: Darryl Gwynne and David Rentz for their study of beetle mating habits with Australian beer bottles.

The complete list of winners (and from previous years which are absolute gold) can be found below.

[Improbable.com]

Paging Dr. Mario: Video Game Addicts Make Huge Scientific Breakthrough

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

Have you ever been playing a game, put down your controller, and thought “I should be doing something more constructive with my time”? Well no need to think that anymore, in fact, you should probably even pick that controller up and work a little harder on your gaming skills, you may be able to find the cure to some horrible disease!

That’s what gamers at Washington University have done, with the help of scientists and a program called Foldit, a game created and developed by Seth Cooper. The game was designed to see if the intuitive mind of a gamer could solve complex problems that scientists have been struggling with by turning the mapping of protein into a competitive game. “We wanted to see if human intuition could succeed where automated methods had failed”, said Firas Khatib of the university’s biochemistry lab.

After testing the gamers capability to solve the puzzles of a number of “almost” solved proteins, Khatib decided to step in with a protein that he had personally tweeked. What protein was that you ask? The Mason-Pfizer monkey virus (M-PMV), a close relative of HIV.
With the findings they are potentially able to develop new or improved drugs to help fight HIV and AIDS.

This is probably the first time the gaming community has helped solve a longstanding scientific problem, but it’s bound to be the beginning of a new innovative way of problem solving, and quite possibly leaps in technological advancement.

[Discover Magazine ]

Intel’s New Processor Could Run On A Potato

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

Not unlike poor GLaDOS here, Intel showed off a super low energy processor that requires only 10 millivolts to operate.  It operates at what is called “near-threshold voltage” or NTV for short.  This voltage is all that is needed for transistors to begin to conduct current.  While a potato would most likely not be used to power the device, the power consumption is so low that it could be powered with either a small solar panel or kinetic energy.

“This concept CPU [codenamed 'Claremont'] runs fast when needed but drops power to below 10 milliwatts when its workload is light – low enough to keep running while powered only by a solar cell the size of a postage stamp,” writes Intel in its release. “While the research chip will not become a product itself, the results of this research could lead to the integration of scalable near-threshold voltage circuits across a wide range of future products, reducing power consumption by 5-fold or more and extending always-on capability to a wider range of computing devices. 

[Digital Trends]

SPICE World: Artificial Volcanos Could Help Cool The Planet

Thursday, September 15th, 2011

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Without delving into the debate on how it’s happening, most reasonable people can agree the world is getting warmer.

If we want it cooler, we are going to have to do something about it. Sure, we could all drive electric cars to our self-sustaining farm communes where we split an organic zucchini soufflé with Ed Begley, Jr. Or we can just stick a hose in the air (as if we don’t ca-re) and pump sulfates into the atmosphere, simulating a volcano eruption, cooling the planet in the process.

The latter is code named SPICE (Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering) and will undergo it’s first test this next month when a hose suspended one kilometer in the air will pump water into the atmosphere. Although geoengineering strategies have been tested before, researchers believe this to be the most cost effective option should the results come back favorable.

[Scientific American]

South Korean Scientists Create Glowing Dog

Monday, August 1st, 2011

Yes, you read that right.  There is now a dog that glows under UV light.  Her name is Tegon.

A research team from Seoul National University (SNU) said the genetically modified female beagle, named Tegon and born in 2009, has been found to glow fluorescent green under ultraviolet light if given a doxycycline antibiotic, the report said.

The researchers, who completed a two-year test, said the ability to glow can be turned on or off by adding a drug to the dog’s food.

Lovers of dog science will remember SNU from their controversial (yet ultimately confirmed) dog cloning breakthrough which resulted in the adorable Snuppy.

[Reuters]