Archive for October, 2008

Weekly Science Blog Roundup…Halloween Edition

By Nina Bai | October 31, 2008 5:59 pm

Yee-haw! It’s the blog roundup.• They love these in Alaska: “A warty, sometimes spotted, reddish, forearm-long fellow with meaty muscles.”

• Don’t feel guilty: There’s a scientifically good reason to gorge yourself on Halloween candy.

• You think being stuck in a cubicle is bad? NASA builds a computer therapist for depressed astronauts.

• Halloween Costumes + Animal Sex = Green Porno (totally safe for work!)

• Just one look from Sir David Attenborough makes carnivorous frogs want to have babies.

• Yet another nutty animal recue mission: Polar bear falls into a dry moat and refuses to use the stairs.

MORE ABOUT: holidays, plar bears

Is Your Halloween Costume Safe?

By Boonsri Dickinson | October 31, 2008 5:24 pm

regulation.jpgThis year, Disco thought we’d get into the spirit of Halloween and dress up in a space suit. So we went to a costume store and bought a silver unitard for the occasion. But when we took the suit out of the bag, it smelled like a new shower curtain. Earlier this year, a national environmental organization found that shower curtains contained high concentrations of phthalates and released volatile organic compounds it to the air (which are all chemicals that the Environmental Protection Agency has recognized as hazardous).

Which would explain why the smell made us feel nauseous. We checked the tag to see what the unitard was made out of: 100 percent polyester, made in China.

So is this costume safe to wear today?

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Drum-Makers Cut Skins, Inhale…and Contract Anthrax

By Nina Bai | October 31, 2008 2:25 pm

drumsLots of occupations come with hazards: mercury poisoning for haberdashers, carcinogenic chemicals for nail salon workers, paper cuts for envelope-stuffers. For professional drum-makers, the danger could be Anthrax. A drum-maker in London has been hospitalized and is in serious condition after inhaling anthrax spores from the animals hides used in his craft.

Anthrax infections used to be known as wool sorter’s disease because the anthrax bacteria, Bacillus anthracis, typically infect grazing animals. When the animals die, the bacteria can form dormant spores that can cling insidiously to hair, biding their time until a new host comes along. Since drum-makers often use animal skins that have not been chemically treated, they’re easy targets for these spores. Authorities say, however, that the risk of infections from just playing the drums is very low.

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MORE ABOUT: anthrax

Police Photos of Missing Children Are Too “Happy,” Researchers Say

By Nina Bai | October 31, 2008 10:26 am

missing childHave you seen this child—looking like this? A new study suggests authorities are using the wrong kind of photos to locate missing children. Parents of missing children are usually asked to provide a recent school photo, which typically show smiling, clean, and dressed-up children. But these photos don’t accurately depict the state of kidnapped children (which is what the average missing child would be), who usually look upset, tired, and unkempt.

Researchers at Mississippi State University asked 150 adults to look at photos of children, some in “clean” states and others in “dirty” states. (For the “dirty” states, the children were photographed with makeup to simulate dirt and bruises.) The adults were then shown another set of photos and asked if they recognized the children from the previous photos. People were better at recognizing children shown in similar states, and the advantage became more apparent when the researchers inserted a delay (10 minutes, 3 weeks, 6 weeks, or 12 weeks) between the two sets of photos. This means that even someone who has seen a picture of a missing child might easily overlook the same child on the street.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Crime & Punishment
MORE ABOUT: crime, faces, psychology

Can Scientists Use a Printer to Create a Human Heart?

By Boonsri Dickinson | October 30, 2008 6:21 pm

heart1.jpgGot a printer? Then you may someday be able to print out a new heart.

By packing a printer full of cells instead of ink, Japanese scientist Makoto Nakamura wants to construct a human heart. But don’t skip a beat just yet: Nakamura needs another 20 years to make what sounds like a science fiction dream into a reality.

The secret, he thinks, is bioprinting, a process that is used to create 3-D structures in the same way a printer uses ink to create words and images on a page. The process works like this: First the cells clump together and flow like liquid, then a printer drops the cells down onto a surface, layering the cells on top of each other until the desired object is created.

So far Nakamura has used this technique to create a tube that resembles a blood vessel, but he hasn’t gotten near anything resembling an entire beating heart.

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MORE ABOUT: medicine

Remember to Set Your Clocks Back—It’s Good For Your Heart

By Nina Bai | October 30, 2008 1:47 pm

heartEmergency rooms will be a little emptier next Monday because the end of daylight savings time appears to reduce the chances of getting a heart attack. A new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found a small but consistent dip in the number of heart attacks on the Monday after “Fall back,” probably due to people getting an extra hour of shut-eye.

The Swedish researchers found the pattern after going through 20 years of data, from 1987 to 2006. They compared the days directly following the time shifts with the same day two weeks before and two weeks after, and found a 5 percent decrease in heart attacks on the Monday following the fall time shift. But the flip side of “Fall back” is “Spring forward,” where heart attacks increase in the few days after the time shift. The first Monday and Wednesday after “Spring forward” had a 6 percent rise in heart attacks, and the first Tuesday had a 10 percent increase. (If you’re reading this in the Southern Hemisphere, take care, because the time shift for you this weekend is actually “Spring forward.”)

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MORE ABOUT: heart attack, sleep

DISCOVER’s Top Ten Science Halloween Costumes, Part II

By Nina Bai | October 29, 2008 2:25 pm

Yesterday, we revealed the first half of our official Top Ten Science-Related Halloween Costumes. Now we bring you the Top Five.

robot5) RecycleBot: Today’s high-tech robots can walk, talk, and put away groceries. This one’s no Wall-E, but there’s a certain old fashioned charm to a giant robot made from recycled laundry detergent bottles. With a bit of tweaking, this could also work for either Ironman or Tin Man.

Image: Instructables / chaintool

biohazard4) Biohazard Suit: The sky is falling, and we don’t mean the stock market. Protect yourself from harmful radiation and slobbering-drunk partygoers with this outfit, complete with Geiger counter, gas mask, and Level B chem suit.

Image: Instructables / mada

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MORE ABOUT: jellyfish, robots

Bug Bloodbaths: Lust for Salt Turns Insects Into Vampires

By Nina Bai | October 29, 2008 12:35 pm

vampireVampirism isn’t just for bats and Edward Cullen anymore. Some ordinary insects are also beginning to covet human blood, sweat, and tears, because these fluids contain valuable salt that is hard to find in their natural environment. Surprisingly, many species are even preferring salt to energy-rich sugar.

The idea that salt attracted bugs first dawned on a team of sweaty scientists studying insects in Peruvian forests. Puzzled by the swarms of tiny bees attacking them, the scientists soon realized that the bees were trying to get a taste of their sweat. Animals need salt to activate nerves and muscles, and to maintain water balance in their cells.

Intrigued, the scientists littered the forest floor with hundreds of vials filled with either sugar or salt and counted the ant species they baited. They found that ant species living within 100 kilometers of the oceans (with easy access to salt) chose sugar over salt. But ant species living farther inland had a noticeable preference for salt. Reporting in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the scientists say the salt cravings were only seen in vegetarian ants, since carnivorous ants can get enough salt from the bodies of their prey.

Which brings us to the vampire moths.

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MORE ABOUT: ants, blood, moths

DISCOVER’s Top Ten Science Halloween Costumes, Part I

By Nina Bai | October 28, 2008 2:34 pm

What are you going to be this Halloween? If you’re looking for costume ideas in the realm of scienceor anything beyond the usual political candidates or scantily-clad cats/devils/piratesyou’ve come to the right place. Here we present DISCOVER’s official Top Ten Science-Related Halloween Costumes.

squid10) Quickie Squid: With little more than paper and a pair of CDs you can approximate these sensitive, intelligent, and sometimes colossal creatures of the deep. If you’re feeling really hardcore, you could even add a squid tattoo.

Image: Instructables/ Tool Using Animal

operation9) Operation man: Thinking about donating an organ? Bone up on your anatomy and surgical skills with a life-sized version of this childhood board game. No need to ask your fellow party-goers to punch you in the face.

Image: Instructables/ NavySWO91

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MORE ABOUT: LED, neanderthal, squid

Worst Science Article of the Week: Drinking Coffee Shrinks Your Breasts?

By Nina Bai | October 27, 2008 6:52 pm

coffeeFemale coffee drinkers beware: that Pumpkin Spice Latte might shrink your breasts. Or so you would think, if you scanned the headlines last week. A new study in the British Journal of Cancer [subscription required] has incited mass hysteria over a tenuous link between coffee intake and breast size. The Telegraph warns: “Drinking Too Much Coffee Could Shrink Women’s Breasts,” while UPI throws in a pun: “Study: Cups of Java Cut Cup Size.” But the best comes from the New York Post: “Women Face Drink & Shrink Dilemma, Coffee Poses a Booby Trap.”

But before you pour that cup of coffee down the sink (or “accidentally” spill it on your busty archnemesis) let’s take a closer look at that study:

Researchers from Sweden recruited 269 women (average age was 29) to have their breast size measured and to answer a questionnaire about coffee intake and other lifestyle choices. All the women were from families at high risk for breast cancer and about half carried a gene, CYP1A2*1F, that is associated with breast cancer. Essentially, the researchers were studying the relationship between CYP1A2*1F, breast size, and coffee intake. The gene is known to control the metabolism of the hormone estrogen as well as certain chemicals found in coffee; it’s also been linked to higher breast density and thus higher breast cancer risk.

This is what they found:

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MORE ABOUT: breast cancer, coffee
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