Archive for July, 2012

Cash Rewards May Cut Through Traffic Congestion

By Sophie Bushwick | July 31, 2012 1:22 pm

traffic
A traffic jam in Singapore

Nobody likes morning commute traffic. Inching along at 5 miles per hour is not only incredibly frustrating, it also yields plenty of pollution. Reducing the cars on road by even just 10 percent during peak times could significantly shrink congestion—but people are unwilling to wake up early or show up to work late just to avoid the peak-traffic time window.

Unless, that is, they have some financial incentive.

Stanford professor Balaji Prabhakar has instituted traffic-relief programs in India and Singapore, and his latest one, Congestion and Parking Relief Incentives, or Capri, is located closer to home, on Stanford University’s campus. Cyrus Fariar describes Capri at Ars Technica:

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, Technology

In Shipwrecks, Women and Children Finished Last

By Sophie Bushwick | July 31, 2012 8:30 am

shipwreck

Back in the day, the unwritten rule of “women and children first” always used to govern who got a spot in a lifeboat, and who went stoically down with the ship. After all, 70 percent of the women and children on the Titanic were rescued, versus a mere 20 percent of the adult men. But then a 2010 study compared survival rates for the Titanic and the Lusitania and concluded that this chivalrous doctrine only prevailed in slow wrecks, when social norms had a chance to gain control of the situation. In fast descents, like the Lusitania’s 18-minute destruction, it was the fittest passengers, between the ages of 16 and 35, who had the best chance of survival. And now a new study deals another blow to “women and children first,” suggesting that this norm wasn’t normal at all.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Human Origins

Do Yeasts Survive the Winter in the Guts of Wasps?

By Veronique Greenwood | July 30, 2012 4:08 pm

wasp A social wasp emerging from its nest

Yeasts are handy little critters: they help produce the alcohol that make wine and beer so deliciously intoxicating. But how they manage to show up on grapes in vineyards year after year, despite freezing winters when there is little for them to eat, is a bit of a mystery. Scientists thought birds could be keeping the yeasts in their guts through the winter, then sprinkling them (ahem) through vineyards in the spring, but turned out the microorganisms couldn’t survive that long in birds.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World

Blind Mice Temporarily Regain Vision After Chemical Injection

By Sophie Bushwick | July 30, 2012 3:04 pm

spacing is important

Our ability to see depends on two factors: light-sensitive rods and cones in the retina, and the nerves that transmit signals from these cells to the brain (along with the brain itself, of course). When the rods and cones die, which can occur as the eye ages or in the retina-damaging eye disease retinitis pigmentosa, the nerves can sometimes still function—if they have a new, working sensor for light. To replace the rods and cones, previous treatments have used electronic implants, which require surgery, or gene therapy, which relies on injections deep into the eye. But in a new technique, all it takes to restore vision—at least partially—is a much less invasive injection of the chemical AAQ.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Living World

Look at This: Hoard of Gold Coins Uncovered in Crusader Castle

By Sophie Bushwick | July 27, 2012 12:54 pm

Crusader coins

The Crusades were a time of religious conflict, when territory and castles were won with bloody battles and then quickly lost again—and with all that brouhaha, who had time to make new coins? When the Christian Knights Hospitaller buried a jug of 108 gold coins at the castle of Apollonia, a now-deserted stronghold north of modern-day Tel Aviv, they were probably hoping to preserve their hoard from the Egyptian soldiers then besieging the fortress. Although they never returned for their money, its recent discovery is telling researchers a lot about Crusader economics and raising new questions—like why the Christians used primarily gold dinars forged by the Fatimids hundreds of years earlier, rather than minting their own currency, something that would have demonstrated their wealth, power, and cultural identity. Many of the coins found in the crusader castle, oddly enough, are emblazoned with the names of Muslim sultans.

Image courtesy of the American Friends of Tel Aviv University

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Human Origins

Shining, Shimmering, Splendid: Scientists Make Mother-of-Pearl in the Lab

By Veronique Greenwood | July 27, 2012 11:21 am

nacre

Mother-of-pearl is surprisingly difficult to mimic. Cheap plastic watch faces don’t count—they may look like the inside of a seashell, but real mother-of-pearl, or nacre, to give its scientific name, is made of thousands of layers of calcium carbonate, with an intricate, interlocking crystal structure.

Because of that, it is phenomenally tough, and engineers would like to be able to use it as an industrial coating. Recently, a team of scientists devised a way to make microscopic layers of calcium carbonate accrete into a very similar crystal structure, mimicking the process that takes place in shellfish. You can see the result above: a sheet of material with the sheen and the strength of real mother-of-pearl.

Image courtesy of Nature Communications

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World

Can a Sperm Bank Save Coral From Sour Seas?

By Sophie Bushwick | July 26, 2012 3:05 pm

coral reef
Coral reef at the Palmyra Atoll in the northern Pacific Ocean

It’s not a good time to be a coral. Less than a third of coral reefs have legal protection from fishing and other damaging human activity. And as climate change increases oceans’ temperature and acidity, corals are suffering from more bleaching events, when stressed corals spit out the symbiotic algae they need to survive, and weaker skeletons. By 2050, coral reefs might be a lost cause. While some researchers work to protect reefs, others are preparing for conservation to fail—by collecting frozen coral sperm.

As Michelle Nijhuis explains in a New York Times article, marine biologist Mary Hagedorn is gathering reproductive material from many corals so that even as reefs die off, researchers can work at maintaining various species’ genetic diversity and trying to ensure their survival.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World

Which Airports Will Give Wings to the Next Pandemic?

By Sophie Bushwick | July 26, 2012 9:59 am

Knowing how bugs will spread through the population is critical to containing epidemics—and airports play a huge role in the global spread of disease. Although mathematical models have attempted to predict how individual airports influence contagion, the models often looked at the later stages of an epidemic, or assumed that travellers moved randomly. A new simulation from MIT predicts the spread of a disease in its first ten days, and takes into account the fact that each human is travelling to a specific desired destination rather than bouncing randomly from airport to airport. Using these assumptions, and information about individual airports, the new model ranks U.S. airports by their influence as disease spreaders.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Physics & Math

What Makes Droplets Dance Around a Hot Surface and Then Fly Away?

By Sophie Bushwick | July 25, 2012 10:56 am

To test the temperature of a frying pan, people often dribble a few drops of water onto the surface. If the pan is cold, the water sits placidly on the surface. But if the metal is hot, the droplets will skitter around like deranged dancers. What makes them move?

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Physics & Math

Look at This: A Valley Painted Red with Algae

By Sophie Bushwick | July 25, 2012 10:16 am

Trentepohlia bloom

Carved into the northern slopes of China’s Mount Gongga, the Yaijiageng river valley looks like the site of a massive paint spill. But the red is actually all-natural: it is a massive bloom of a newly discovered variety of algae. The alga belongs to the species Trentepohlia jolithus, which is capable of growing on rocks and tree trunks. This yajiagengensis variety, named after the river valley where it originates, only grows on local exposed rock—and with debris and human activities blocking and rerouting the flow of the Yajiageng river in recent years, a lot more stone has become exposed. The alga’s spread has turned the location into a tourist attraction with the nickname “Red-Stone-Valley.”

[via New Scientist]

Image courtesy of Guoxiang Liu

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World
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