Category: Top Posts

Can Math Can Save You From the Slow Line?

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A sight we’ve all seen, but can we increase our odds of choosing the fastest line?

It seems obvious. You arrive at the checkouts and see one line is much longer than the other, so you join the shorter one. But, before long, the people in the bigger line zoom past you and you’ve barely moved toward the exit. The Conversation

When it comes to queuing, the intuitive choice is often not the fastest one. Why do lines feel like they slow down as soon as you join them? And is there a way to decide beforehand which line is really the best one to join? Mathematicians have been studying these questions for years. So can they help us spend less time waiting in line? Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: math

Is Technology Too Good for an Old-School Test of Einstein’s Relativity?

By Terena Bell | May 5, 2017 11:45 am
July 11, 2010 eclipse Image as viewed from Easter Island in the South Pacific. (Credits: Williams College Eclipse Expedition - Jay M. Pasachoff, Muzhou Lu, and Craig Malamut)

July 11, 2010 eclipse Image as viewed from Easter Island in the South Pacific. (Credits: Williams College Eclipse Expedition – Jay M. Pasachoff, Muzhou Lu, and Craig Malamut)

On Aug. 21, sky-gazers from around the world will converge in the United States as a total solar eclipse charts a path from Oregon to South Carolina. In between, on Casper Mountain in Wyoming, you’ll find Don Bruns with his telescope.

A retired physicist, Bruns is using the rare opportunity to test Albert Einstein’s general relativity like Sir Arthur Eddington, who was the first scientist to test the theory back in 1919. At that time, Newton’s law of universal gravity was still vogue, but Einstein shook the status quo by introducing his theory of general relativity, which fused concepts of time and three-dimensional space into a four-dimensional continuum called space-time. According to Einstein, gravity wasn’t a force; instead, it was a distortion in the fabric of space-time. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: stargazing

How Tree Rings Solved a Musical Mystery

By Stephen E. Nash | May 3, 2017 10:15 am
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Dendrochronologist Henri Grissino-Mayer and colleagues study the tree rings in the Karr-Koussevitzky double bass. Their analysis ultimately determined that the instrument was built much later than previously thought. (Credit: Henri Grissino-Mayer)

Modern science is full of surprising analytical techniques that can be used in a wide variety of remarkable circumstances.

My favorite technique is dendrochronology—the study of “tree time.” By assigning calendar-year dates to growth rings in trees, scientists can garner information relevant to an astonishing range of disciplines, including archaeology, climatology, the study of fire history, and many others. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: plants

Why Quality Sleep Grows More Elusive with Age

By Mark Barna | May 1, 2017 10:12 am
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(Olga Kuevda/Shutterstock)

Middle-agers and seniors on average sleep less than younger people, about 6 to 7 hours a night compared to 8 to 9 hours.

But why is this so? And are older people therefore sleep deprived, which can give rise to chronic maladies and speed up aging? Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: personal health

Novel Antibiotic Recipes Could Be Hidden in Medieval Medical Texts

By Erin Connelly, University of Pennsylvania | April 25, 2017 10:20 am
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(Credit: Filip Fuxa/Shutterstock)

For a long time, medieval medicine has been dismissed as irrelevant. This time period is popularly referred to as the “Dark Ages,” which erroneously suggests that it was unenlightened by science or reason. However, some medievalists and scientists are now looking back to history for clues to inform the search for new antibiotics.

The evolution of antibiotic-resistant microbes means that it is always necessary to find new drugs to battle microbes that are no longer treatable with current antibiotics. But progress in finding new antibiotics is slow. The drug discovery pipeline is currently stalled. An estimated 700,000 people around the world die annually from drug-resistant infections. If the situation does not change, it is estimated that such infections will kill 10 million people per year by 2050. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: vaccines & drugs

Why Felines Can’t Resist the #CatSquare

By Nicholas Dodman, Tufts University | April 18, 2017 12:40 pm
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Next best thing to a hidey-hole box? (Credit: Maggie Villiger, CC BY-ND)

Twitter’s been on fire with people amazed by cats that seem compelled to park themselves in squares of tape marked out on the floor. These felines appear powerless to resist the call of the #CatSquare. The Conversation

This social media fascination is a variation on a question I heard over and over as a panelist on Animal Planet’s “America’s Cutest Pets” series. I was asked to watch video after video of cats climbing into cardboard boxes, suitcases, sinks, plastic storage bins, cupboards and even wide-necked flower vases.

“That’s so cute … but why do you think she does that?” was always the question. It was as if each climbing or squeezing incident had a completely different explanation.

It did not. It’s just a fact of life that cats like to squeeze into small spaces where they feel much safer and more secure. Instead of being exposed to the clamor and possible danger of wide open spaces, cats prefer to huddle in smaller, more clearly delineated areas.

Kittens get securely snuggled by their mothers. (Credit: Shutterstock)

When young, they used to snuggle with their mom and litter mates, feeling the warmth and soothing contact. Think of it as a kind of swaddling behavior. The close contact with the box’s interior, we believe, releases endorphins – nature’s own morphine-like substances – causing pleasure and reducing stress.

Along with Temple Grandin, I researched the comforting effect of “lateral side pressure.” We found that the drug naltrexone, which counteracts endorphins, reversed the soporific effect of gentle squeezing of pigs. Hugs, anyone?

Also remember that cats make nests – small, discrete areas where mother cats give birth and provide sanctuary for their kittens. Note that no behavior is entirely unique to any one particular sex, be they neutered or not. Small spaces are in cats’ behavioral repertoire and are generally good (except for the cat carrier, of course, which has negative connotations – like car rides or a visit to the vet).

One variation on this theme occurs when the box is so shallow that it does not provide all the creature comforts it might.

Or then again, the box may have no walls at all but simply be a representation of a box – say a taped-in square on the ground. This virtual box is not as good as the real thing but is at least a representation of what might be – if only there was a real square box to nestle in.

This virtual box may provide some misplaced sense of security and psychosomatic comfort.

The cats-in-boxes issue was put to the test by Dutch researchers who gave shelter cats boxes as retreats. According to the study, cats with boxes adapted to their new environment more quickly compared to a control group without boxes: The conclusion was that the cats with boxes were less stressed because they had a cardboard hidey-hole to hunker down in.

Availability of a cozy box is part of a well-appointed space for a cat. (Credit: Lisa Norwood, CC BY-NC)

Let this be a lesson to all cat people – cats need boxes or other vessels for environmental enrichment purposes. Hidey-holes in elevated locations are even better: Being high up provides security and a birds’s-eye view of the world, so to speak.

Without a real box, a square on the ground may be the next best thing for a cat, though it’s a poor substitute for the real thing. Whether a shoe box, shopping bag or a square on the ground, it probably gives a cat a sense of security that open space just can’t provide.

Nicholas Dodman, Professor Emeritus of Behavioral Pharmacology and Animal Behavior, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, Tufts University

 

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: animals

Genomics Is Buried in Too Much Data

By Patrick Chain | April 10, 2017 12:26 pm
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(Credit: Alix Kreil/Shutterstock)

When a sore throat and sinus congestion warrant a visit to the doctor, your physician will attempt to determine whether a cold virus or bacterial infection is to blame—oftentimes without success. So, just to be safe, they might write a potentially unnecessary script for an antibiotic.

But what if a nurse could swipe your saliva and run a quick genetic test for bacteria? If the test results are negative, you get a prescription for a decongestant and orders to get some rest, rather than contributing to the widespread overuse of antibiotics. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: genetics

Do We Need a Word for Everything?

By Nathaniel Scharping | April 4, 2017 10:27 am
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(Credit: danm12/Shutterstock)

Imagine walking through a forest near dusk. It is peaceful and quiet; the setting sun paints streaks of light through tree trunks and across your path. The scene is familiar to anyone who’s ever taken a walk in the woods. 

Using one word, how would you describe the experience? 

You might defer to a string of adjectives: serenity, beauty, peace, fulfillment — words that dance around the feeling without ever precisely pinning it down. But that’s not the case in Japanese. In that language, a specific term encapsulates the feeling evoked by sunlight dancing through the trees: komorebi.

It’s a tidy way of packaging calm, wonder and harmony into one word. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: emotions, psychology

Get Lost in Mega-Tunnels Dug by South American Megafauna

By Andrew Jenner | March 28, 2017 1:39 pm
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Looking into a large paleoburrow in Brazil. (Courtesy: Heinrich Frank)

It was in 2010 that Amilcar Adamy first investigated rumors of an impressive cave in southern Brazil.

A geologist with the Brazilian Geological Survey (known by its Portuguese acronym, CPRM) Adamy was at the time working on a general survey of the Amazonian state of Rondonia. After asking around, he eventually found his way to a gaping hole on a wooded slope a few miles north of the Bolivian border.

Unable to contact the landowner, Adamy couldn’t study the cave in detail during that first encounter. But a preliminary inspection revealed it wasn’t the work of any natural geological process. He’d been in other caves nearby, formed by water within the same geology underlying this particular hillside. Those caves looked nothing like this large, round passage with a smooth floor.

“I’d never seen anything like it before,” said Adamy, who resolved to return for a closer look some day. “It really grabbed my attention. It didn’t look natural.”

Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: paleontology

Revisited: The Regenerative Power of Pig Guts

By Adam Piore | March 27, 2017 3:09 pm
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(Credit: AVA Bitter/Shutterstock)

Bioengineers have made great strides harnessing the body’s ability to start over, whether regenerating heart tissue and bones, or using stem cells to regrow fingertips. Still, much of regenerative medicine’s promise remains inside the laboratory—or at least that was what I thought when I began reporting for The Body Builders: Inside the Science of the Engineered Human.

Some clinicians, like Dr. Eugenio Rodriguez, aren’t waiting for trials to be completed to help patients. Instead, they are already adding regenerative technologies to their medical toolboxes, and using them to save human limbs. Years ago down in Delray Beach, Florida, Rodriguez, a trauma surgeon, caused a bit of a sensation after exploring the regenerative powers of pig guts. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: biotechnology
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