Nel's New Day

April 27, 2012

Science for the Week

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 8:01 PM

The Congress has done all the damage it can until it returns after a one-week recess, and it’s Friday. Let’s have some science, both good and bad news. Here are things that researchers discovered last week.

Blood Test for Depression: Testing rats shows that depressed rats have different types of molecules than healthy rats. Moving on to teenagers, the researchers discovered that they also have higher concentrations of the same specific molecules in their blood. It’s preliminary, but parents can someday learn whether they tell their kids to “get over it” or find them medical help–and maybe adults can do this too.

Math’s Help in Real Life: When Dmitri Krioukov, a physicist from the University of California at San Diego, was pulled over by an officer for going through a stop sign, he didn’t pay the fine. Instead he wrote a paper proving his innocence because of three simultaneously occurring phenomena: (1) the officer measurement of Krioukov’s angular, not linear velocity; (2) Krioukov’s rapid deceleration, which made it look as if he had not stopped; and (3) another cars obstructing the officer’s view at just the right moment, causing him to miss Krioukov’s actual stop. Krioukov even used graphs. He beat the ticket, and the judge didn’t blame the police officer, saying the officer’s “perception of reality did not properly reflect reality.”

Freeing Microbes: Scientific American’s “Melting Glaciers Liberate Ancient Microbes” by Cheryl Katz and the Daily Climate (an extended version of Bugs in the Ice Sheet, SA’s May 2012 issue) addresses the melting ice sheets of Antarctica and Greenland. The article concluded, “Tiny organisms that may have been trapped there longer than modern humans have walked the planet, biding their time until conditions change and set them free again” will become free again. These bacteria still able to “grow and divide” after ages under ice have been “evolving inside the ice sheets exchanging DNA and gaining new traits,” waiting for a population that is no longer immune to them.

Blind Shrimp and Clawless Crabs: According to a specialist with the Bureau of Land Management, the “blind, tiny, almost translucent shrimp” recently found in a cave near Carlsbad Caverns (NM) have “been down there tens of thousands of years, millions of years and we’re just now getting around to finding them.” After the 200-million-gallon BP oil disaster two years ago, eyeless shrimp, clawless crabs, gill-less fish and other deformed marine life are showing up along with shrimp with tumors, crabs with soft shells or no spikes on their shells, and fish with lesions. Amir Khan of the The International Business Times reported, “BP officials said tests show that gulf seafood is safe and that fish deformities were documented before the oil spill.” Jim Cowan, an oceanographer at Louisiana State University, said that the fisherman have never seen anything like this and after 20 years and up to 30,000 fish “I’ve never seen anything like this either.”

Khan’s story also stated, “Environmental researchers blame the spill and also BP’s attempt to clean it up using two million gallons of a dispersant called Corexit. The exact effects of the dispersant are unknown and researchers with Corexit’s manufacturer Nalco didn’t conduct toxicity studies on the product before use.”

Better Ways to Clean Up Oil Spill: Researchers at Rice University and Penn State figured that adding boron during the creation of carbon nanotubes produces “solid, spongy, reusable blocks that have an astounding ability to absorb oil spilled in water,” reported Science Daily. Boron promotes covalent bonds (bonds created when atoms of a molecule share a pair of electrons) in the nanotubes which is what gives them their “robust quality.” They can be used over and over again, and a sample “remained elastic after about 10,000 compressions in the lab.” Cleaning up big oil spills is just one use for the nanosponges, wrote Mauricio Terrones, co-author of the paper that appeared in Nature’s online open-access journal Scientific Reports. They could also help make lighter batteries, “scaffolds for bone-tissue regeneration,” materials for the auto and aircraft industries and also for filtration systems.

Chemical Crayon Labels: Queinteresante on Etsy (via io9) has 96 color labels that match a basic 96 crayon pack but include the names of the chemicals that create the color. Kids love coloring, learning big new words (all kids can name more dinosaurs than most adults can), and sounding smart. Caveat: parents have to remember them, too. When the kid says, “Please hand me the mercuric iodide,” parents better be clued in.

Gene Mutation Making People More Intelligent: Mariette Le Roux wrote that a genetic variant is not the last word on how bright you are but does provide a glimpse as to why some people are smarter than others. “DNA, the blueprint for life, comprises four basic chemicals called A (for adenine), C (cytosine), T (thymine) and G (guanine), strung together in different combinations along a double helix.” On the gene HMGA2, people who had an extra C instead of a T on a specific segment of the gene had larger brains. People with two Cs also scored 1.3 points higher on standardized IQ tests than those with one C while those with no Cs scored 1.3 points lower than average. “The team found that every T in place of a C represented a 0.6 percent smaller brain — equal to more than a year’s worth of brain loss through the normal aging process.” Study leader Paul Thompson said that while the effect was small, “it would help our brain resist cognitive decline later in life.” He also said, “Most other ways we know of improving brain function more than outweigh this gene,” including exercising and improving both our diets and our educations. [I must be lacking those Cs because I don’t really understand this!]

Size Matters: A research team at UCLA found that men who were holding a .357 Magnum handgun looked taller than men who were holding other objects. Participants looked at photos of men’s hands holding either the gun or another object like a drill or caulking gun and then asked them to estimate the size of the person holding the object. The gun toters always came out taller–two inches taller than those with the caulking gun. The more complex an animal is, the more complex their threat assessment. Daniel Fessler, evolutionary anthropologist and director of UCLA’s Center for Behavior Evolution and Culture, and his research team theorize that “the many factors that go into assessing a threat in our species might be represented in a very simple and primitive way in the brain: simply as an image of the person’s size and strength.”

Grand Illusion: After Tupac Shakur was killed by gunfire in 1996 at the age of 25, he made a stunning appearance at the Coachella Music and Arts Festival. According to Ars Technica, it was because of an optical illusion technique known as “Pepper’s Ghost.” While the eye is trained on a target area where a piece of glass is hidden. The actual performer/object is in a main room off to the side, out of the viewer’s line of vision. Light shining on the object in the main room is reflected in the glass pushing it into the target area and creating a ghostly illusion. AV Concepts added an tech-slick-trick by using a sheet of something called Musion Eyeliner, a “proprietary Mylar foil,” instead of glass. Ars Technica quotes a press release saying that it “delivered uncompressed media for 3 stacked 1920 x 1080 images, delivering 54,000 lumens of incredibly clear projected imagery.”

Have a good weekend!

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