Archive for December, 2008

South African Teenagers Smoke HIV Drugs to Get High

By Nina Bai | December 10, 2008 1:06 pm

drugsIn the U.S., the kids are snorting Ritalin to get high. But in South Africa, the newest abused prescription drugs of choice are HIV drugs. Teenage schoolchildren in South Africa have been seen grinding up anti-retroviral pills and smoking them, sometimes mixed with painkillers or marijuana. The children say they are buying or stealing the drugs from HIV patients and healthcare workers.

Tooli Nhlapo, a documentary filmmaker for the South African Broadcasting Corporation, was shocked when she first observed the children smoking the pills. Meant to boost the immune system and help the body fight off HIV, the drugs apparently produce a hallucinogenic effect when smoked.

“When I asked them why they like doing it, they said it helps them relax and forget about their problems,” she said. What Nhlapo first thought was an isolated incident may turn out to be a nationwide problem: Many people in the areas she visited were aware of the new way to get high.

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Unique Gift Idea: Name Your Own Bat Species

By Nina Bai | December 9, 2008 3:25 pm

batDiamond rings can get lost on the beach or fall down the drain. For something that truly lasts forever, consider naming a new species of bat after your sweetheart—or yourself.

Purdue University is holding an auction, just in time for the holiday season, to name nine newly discovered species, including seven bats and two turtles. The funds raised will go towards funding studies of the new species and conserving their natural habitats.

First up on the block is a real gem: the world’s tiniest bat. The little yellow creature is found from Mexico to Brazil and weighs less than a teaspoon of water. John Bickham, who helped discover the new species, explains the prize as follows: “The species name would look like: Rhogeessa (your name here). And fitting with the scientific protocols and the Latin descriptions for the genus and species, we would add an ‘i’ to the person’s name.”

Although the honor of naming a new species traditionally goes to the discoverer, Bickham is donating that right to the auction. In case you’re not sold yet, Bickham notes that bats make up nearly one-fourth of all mammals and they play essential roles as pollinators, seed dispersers, and pest controllers. The winning bidder will also get the chance to travel on a scientific expedition with the research team.

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MORE ABOUT: auctions, bats, new species

Digital Pandemics: Program Tracks Disease Using Avatars for Every American

By Nina Bai | December 9, 2008 2:04 pm

lego peopleSoon, every single American will have a digital avatar—and we’re not talking about Second Life characters. Researchers at Virginia Tech are building a nationwide computer simulation that will include 300 million synthetic individuals with true-to-life characteristics taken from U.S. Census data. The researchers say there are many uses for the simulation, from predicting the spread of infectious diseases to tracking fads and modeling traffic flow.

The program, known as EpiSimdemics, already has 100 million simulated residents. Each resident is endowed with as many as 163 variables, including age, education, occupation, family size, and general health. Although each synthetic resident isn’t meant to represent a specific real-life person, the information is taken from publicly available demographics data. The residents are mapped to real houses and real neighborhoods and assigned local schools, grocery stores, and shopping centers. The researchers hope to add more variables, including air travel using real-life flight data.

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The World’s Oldest Stash: Scientists Find 2,700-Year-Old Pot

By Boonsri Dickinson | December 8, 2008 5:52 pm

(Credit: aastock/Shutterstock)

Scientists have discovered two pounds of a dried plant that turned out to be the oldest marijuana in the world. Inside one of the Yanghai Tombs excavated in the Gobi Desert, a team of researchers found the cannabis packed into a wooden bowl resting inside a 2,700-year-old grave. It was placed near the head of a blue-eyed, 45-year-old shaman among other objects like bridles and a harp to be used in afterlife.

At first, the researchers thought the dried weed was coriander. Then they spent 10 months getting the cannabis from the tomb in China to a secret lab in England. Finally, the team put the stash through “microscopic botanical analysis” including carbon dating and genetic analysis, and discovered the stash was really pot.

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MORE ABOUT: china, genetics, marijuana

New Study Finds Warmer Temperatures May Lead to Longer Limbs

By Nina Bai | December 8, 2008 3:24 pm

long legsIf you want to be leggier, consider moving to Florida. It might even work if your parents have average-sized limbs. New research has found that DNA isn’t the only route to long legs: Warmer temperatures can also lead to longer limbs by helping cartilage grow, at least in mice.

Researchers raised baby mice in cold (45F), normal (70F), or warm (81F) temperatures for about two months. The mice raised in warmer temperatures grew longer tibias and femurs (leg bones), and metatarsals (“toes”). The researchers say the effect may be partly explained by increased blood flow under warmer conditions, which promote growth of the cartilage capping the ends of long bones. However, this doesn’t fully explain the results, and they believe temperature also affects other biological mechanisms, like the expression of proteins.

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Artist Pollutes to Criticize Carbon Offsets

By Nina Bai | December 8, 2008 1:40 pm

CO2Sometimes to make a point, you have to release some greenhouse gas. On September 29, artist Francesca Galeazzi climbed to a pristine spot on the Jakobshavn fiord in Greenland and—to the shock and horror of her fellow travelers—released a 6 kg tank of CO2 gas. “The CO2 came out violently, freezing the air around the nozzle,” she wrote on her website.

Galeazzi’s act of pollution may have been blatant, but it was just a drop in the ocean compared to the amount of carbon emissions each of us produces, and we do so no less consciously. In the U.S., that number is nearly 20 metric tonnes per person per year. Before Galeazzi pulled the stunt, she purchased an equivalent offset from one of the online Gold Standard Carbon Offsetting schemes—demonstrating how many of us justify our bad behavior. Buying carbon offsets seems to be a growing trend among the green-conscious, a form of environmental penance in which you can pay cash to have someone else wipe away your carbon footprint. In a recent interview, Galeazzi explained her criticism of carbon offsets:

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Weekly Science Blog Roundup

By Nina Bai | December 5, 2008 6:57 pm

Yee-haw! It’s the blog roundup.• Ever wanted to scratch-n-sniff Michael Phelps? The current issue of People features a special “Sexy Scents” section with “scratch-n-sniff” photos of hunky men and their preferred odors. (Is it chlorine?)

• One of the two orb weaver spiders on the International Space Station escaped, briefly. Now it’s back and weaving webs of confusion in zero-gravity.

• Amateur astronomers are keeping an eye on the tool bag that was lost during a recent space walk. They say it’s about as bright as the planet Neptune.

• Keystroke like a pro with free Gmail keyboard shortcut stickers! Just send a self-addressed stamped envelope to them via old-fashioned snailmail.

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MORE ABOUT: men, octopus, spiders

To Satisfy Lust for Truffles, The French Will Try to Clone Them

By Nina Bai | December 5, 2008 4:24 pm

truffleAs truffle season kicks into gear, the French are taking drastic measures to save their highly-prized black truffle, which sells for more than a $1000 a kilo. Apparently, 40 to 50 tons per year (the current output) of the pungent, lumpy fungus with reported aphrodisiac powers isn’t enough to satiate the bon vivants. A hundred years ago, the country was producing 1,000 tons per year of truffle, but global warming and the decline of farming have made the delicacy harder to find.

Truffles are tricky to grow. They require a symbiotic relationship with specific types of trees. The Black Périgord Truffle, known as the “black diamond,” grows exclusively on the roots of oak trees.

Now, as a last ditch effort to save the truffle industry, French scientists are turning to cloning. The Financial Times reports:

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Food, Nutrition, & More Food
MORE ABOUT: France, fungus, truffles

Boys: If You Want To Get Girls, Don’t Study Science

By Boonsri Dickinson | December 5, 2008 3:20 pm

440226440_dfe9c0216b.jpgThis just in: Nerdy 16-to-25-year-old male science students are the most likely to be virgins of any of 185 students at the University of Sydney, according to a new study. Australian psychotherapist Stephen Carroll asked students in different departments about their sexual past and their knowledge of Chlamydia. While the male science students had the least amount of sex, female art students reportedly had the most, and also knew the least about the common STD.

What’s going on for all those lonely science majors? They’re spending too much time in the lab, according to Carroll. And given that the majority of science classes are still predominantly male, these deprived men probably aren’t going to find dates in their physics or engineering class. Maybe they should consider enrolling in drawing or painting 101.

Credit: flickr/ motoyzf222

MORE ABOUT: art, education, science, sex

To Levitate Water, Turn on the Strobe Lights

By Nina Bai | December 5, 2008 1:12 pm

water dropThe same technology that makes ravers at a club look like they’re gyrating in slow motion can be used to levitate water. Watch it here!

It’s a nifty illusion created by strobe lights, or a stroboscope, a device that emits quick pulses of light. In the setup shown in the video, all the water drops are actually falling and most of the time they are invisible. The drops are only visible during the millisecond pulses of the strobe light. By adjusting these pulses to the rate of the falling drops, the drops can be made to look like they are traveling at certain speeds, hovering in midair, or even levitating. Your mind automatically connects the images illuminated by the pulses, likes frames of an animated cartoon, creating the illusion of gravity-defying motion. What you perceive as a rising drop of water is actually frames of many different falling drops. The same concept is behind the wagon-wheel effect often seen in movies.

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