Flashback Friday: Think your Smart Car is small? Try a microscopic nanocar!

By Seriously Science | July 24, 2015 6:00 am

Finally, a car that’s easy to parallel park! These awesome nanocars (and nanotrucks!) with actual moving parts are made from large molecular building blocks, including wheels made from buckyballs. Although they are far too small to see with the naked eye, researchers hope to eventually use them to transport “nanocargo” (atoms and molecules) across surfaces. We, on the other hand, hope that a Nanocar Indy500 is not far away!

Synthesis of single-molecule nanocars.

“The drive to miniaturize devices has led to a variety of molecular machines inspired by macroscopic counterparts such as molecular motors, switches, shuttles, turnstiles, barrows, elevators, and nanovehicles. Such nanomachines are designed for controlled mechanical motion and the transport of nanocargo. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: playing with balls

Scientists determine what makes a good-looking penis.

By Seriously Science | July 22, 2015 10:57 am
Photo: flickr/Dallas Krentzel

Photo: flickr/Dallas Krentzel

Is there such a thing as an ugly penis? How about a pretty one? These researchers set out to determine what features are most important for a “good-looking” dong (with a specific application to men who had surgery to correct a penile birth defect). To do so, they had over 100 women rate photos of normal and surgically corrected penises, as well as complete a survey about which features of penile appearance were most important to them. The result? “General cosmetic appearance” and “appearance of pubic hair” were rated at the top, while penile length, appearance of the scrotum, and position/shape of the meatus (urethral opening) were at the bottom of the list. More proof that size really doesn’t matter (except, perhaps, when it comes to the GDP…)!

What is a Good Looking Penis? How Women Rate the Penile Appearance of Men with Surgically Corrected Hypospadias.

Some men with corrected hypospadias perceive their penile appearance to be abnormal, although health professionals consider these results satisfactory.
The aim of this study was to investigate how relevant women consider single aspects of penile appearance to be. Moreover, we studied whether women perceive hypospadias-affected surgically repaired genitals (HASRGs) to be as normal-looking as circumcised genitals and identified the most relevant predictors that influence whether a penis is perceived as normal.
In this cross-sectional study, 105 women in different age groups (age range: 16-20, 25-30, and 40-45 years) completed a standardized questionnaire.
Participants had to rate the importance of eight penile aspects and to indicate how normal they found the appearance of standardized photos of 10 HASRGs and of 10 circumcised genitals. Furthermore, they were asked about demographic characteristics and their sexuality. Read More

The look of a convict’s face could determine whether he gets the death penalty.

By Seriously Science | July 14, 2015 6:00 am
Photo: flickr/Thomas Hawk

Photo: flickr/Thomas Hawk

Despite evidence to the contrary, many like to think that the U.S. justice system works pretty well. This is especially true when it comes to the ultimate punishment — the death penalty. But as we know, not everyone on death row is guilty. So where does the process go wrong? Here, researchers tested whether snap judgements of peoples’ faces affected whether they were given the death penalty. To do so, the researchers had volunteers judge the “trustworthiness” of the faces of people who had been convicted of murder and gotten either a life sentence or the death penalty, or people who had been on death row and subsequently exonerated. In both cases, a lack of facial “trustworthiness” was correlated with being more likely to have been sentenced to the death penalty, even in the case of people who were actually innocent. (By the way, similar results were previously seen for people who were seen as more “stereotypically Black.”) As the authors put it, “These results highlight the power of facial appearance to prejudice perceivers and affect life outcomes even to the point of execution, which suggests an alarming bias in the criminal-justice system.”

Facial Trustworthiness Predicts Extreme Criminal-Sentencing Outcomes

“Untrustworthy faces incur negative judgments across numerous domains. Existing work in this area has focused on situations in which the target’s trustworthiness is relevant to the judgment (e.g., criminal verdicts and economic games). Yet in the present studies, we found that people also overgeneralized trustworthiness in criminal-sentencing decisions when trustworthiness should not be judicially relevant, and they did so even for the most extreme sentencing decision: condemning someone to death. Read More

Flashback Friday: Underdog squid make giant swarming sperm.

By Seriously Science | July 9, 2015 6:00 am

Photo:opencageThe sex life of the coastal squid (Loligo bleekeri) is pretty complicated. First off, the females get to mate with multiple males (a perk called polyandry) that come in two flavors. First, you’ve got your “consort males.” These (literally) big boys use pimpin’ color-changing displays to woo the ladies, and, if she’s down for it, he deposits his sperm into her oviduct and proceeds to hang around to make sure that his is the only sperm in there. Then, you’ve got your “sneaker males.” These underdogs are small and can’t contend with with consort males. Instead, right when the female is about to lay her eggs, these little guys swoop in and mate with the female and leave their sperm all over HER FACE. You might think that this, in terms of producing squid babbies, would be a total fail. But you would be wrong, because it turns out that female squid lay their eggs out the front, which works out pretty well for the sneaker males. However, the story doesn’t end there. It turns out that the sperm produced by sneaker males is much bigger than that of consort males, and this paper reveals that the sperm also behave differently — they actually swarm. These scientists have discovered that sneaker male sperm move as a collective, attracted to CO2 that is presumably produced by the eggs. Another reason to wish you were a squid.

Sperm from sneaker male squids exhibit chemotactic swarming to CO₂.

“Behavioral traits of sperm are adapted to the reproductive strategy that each species employs. In polyandrous species, spermatozoa often form motile clusters, which might be advantageous for competing with sperm from other males. Read More

People are more suspicious when things smell fishy… literally.

By Seriously Science | July 8, 2015 1:45 pm

According to this study, it’s no mere coincidence that we call suspicious circumstances “fishy”. Because the association between smell and suspicion is common to many languages, these scientists tested whether stinky smells help people identify stories that don’t make sense using a test called the “Moses Illusion“. Sure enough, smelling fish did make people more suspicious, and it also seemed to help people figure out when their initial hunch was wrong. So, the next time you are interviewing a crime suspect, be sure to bring along your handy-dandy dead fish!

Something smells fishy: Olfactory suspicion cues improve performance on the Moses illusion and Wason rule discovery task.

“Feelings of suspicion alert people not to take information at face value. In many languages, suspicion is metaphorically associated with smell; in English, this smell is “fishy”. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: smell you later

Flashback Friday: It is easier to fart while standing up or lying down?

By Seriously Science | July 3, 2015 6:00 am

Photo: flickr/Loren Javier

We know you fart. And probably a lot more than you are willing to admit. And it stinks. And sometimes you just want to get it out so you can get on with your life (sans farts). These scientists are here to help you out by determining if you can expel your gas more efficiently by standing or lying down (spoiler alert: standing is better!). How did the scientists control for the amount of gas their subjects had, you ask? Why, by blowing their intestines up with gas and measuring how much they farted, of course!

Influence of body posture on intestinal transit of gas.

“BACKGROUND: Patients describe that body posture may affect their abdominal bloating, distension, and flatulence, but whether changes in position have objectively demonstrable effects, either beneficial or deleterious, has not been investigated. Aim: To determine the effect of body posture, upright versus supine, on intestinal transit of gas loads.

SUBJECTS: Eight healthy subjects without gastrointestinal symptoms.

METHODS: In each subject a gas mixture was continuously infused into the jejunum (12 ml/min) for three hours, and gas evacuation, clearance of a non- absorbable gaseous marker, perception, and abdominal girth were measured. Paired studies were randomly performed in each subject on separate days in the upright and supine positions. Read More


In a negotiation, crying really does help.

By Seriously Science | July 1, 2015 5:33 pm
Photo: flickr/memekode

Photo: flickr/memekode

Getting ready to ask for that big promotion? Is it time to buy a new car? According to this study, you might get a better deal if you cry a little bit. Here, the researchers tested whether people who expressed sadness in negotiations were able to get a better deal. They found that breaking into tears does work by making the other person feel sorry for you, but only under certain conditions — for example, if the person crying is perceived as having less power, or if the other person expects to see
their weepy negotiation partner again in the future. The abstract of the study is below. Read it and weep!

Weep and Get More: When and Why Sadness Expression Is
Effective in Negotiations

“Although recently some research has been accumulated on emotional expressions in negotiations, there is little research on whether expressing sadness could have any effect in negotiations. We propose that sadness expressions can increase the expressers’ ability to claim value in negotiations because they make recipients experience greater other-concern for the expresser. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: feelings shmeelings, told you so

Study finds conservatives have more self control than liberals.

By Seriously Science | June 23, 2015 11:34 am
Image: Flickr/DonkeyHotey

Image: Flickr/DonkeyHotey

With the general election only 503 days away, politics is all everyone’s talking about. And most Americans probably already know which way they are going to vote, even though the candidates have yet to be decided upon. But what makes a liberal a liberal and a conservative, well, a conservative? We’ve reported on a number of studies that try to address this question, and here’s another to add to the pile. These researchers found that one difference between liberals and conservatives seems to be self-control–apparently conservatives have more! And this is not just any old correlation; the relationship seems to stem from the conservative ideology that people can choose their outcome in life. When this belief was experimentally reinforced, conservatives exhibited more self control, and less after reading a paragragh explaining how free will leads to frustration and unhappiness (see below for the full text of the paragraph). But there is one thing we hope everyone has enough self-control to do: don’t forget to vote!

The self-control consequences of political ideology.

“Evidence from three studies reveals a critical difference in self-control as a function of political ideology. Specifically, greater endorsement of political conservatism (versus liberalism) was associated with greater attention regulation and task persistence. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: politics schmolitics

The key to dating someone hotter than you? Get to know them first!

By Seriously Science | June 17, 2015 6:00 am
Image: Flickr/catlovers

Image: Flickr/catlovers

They say that people end up with equally attractive romantic partners. But does that mean that if you are grotesque, you don’t have a chance of landing a real hottie? Well, according to this study, there is hope for you yet! By studying 167 couples, these scientists confirmed the idea that people of equal attractiveness tend to “assort” (date each other). However, this is only true if they don’t know each other very well — it turns out that all bets are off for couples who spend a lot of time together before dating. Perhaps Beauty and The Beast wasn’t so far-fetched after all. Except for the singing candlestick. That was unrealistic.

Leveling the Playing Field: Longer Acquaintance Predicts Reduced Assortative Mating on Attractiveness.

“Clear empirical demonstrations of the theoretical principles underlying assortative mating remain elusive. This article examines a moderator of assortative mating-how well couple members knew each other before dating-suggested by recent findings related to market-based (i.e., competition) theories. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: feelings shmeelings, hot or not?

Flashback Friday: What happens to corpses buried in cement?

By Seriously Science | June 12, 2015 6:00 am

What happens to a body buried in cement? How long does it take to decompose? If the mafia were to do an experiment, it might well be this one! These (Italian) scientists set out to answer these questions using (what else? ) piglet corpses. Don’t worry, the authors assure us that they died of “natural causes”…

Burial of piglet carcasses in cement: a study of macroscopic and microscopic alterations on an animal model.

“Scarce experimental data exist describing postmortem effects of burial in cement. The scanty literature presents several case reports, but no experimental study. To perform a pilot study, the following experimental system was designed: 4 piglet corpses, who died of natural causes, were encased in concrete. After 1, 2, 3, and 6 months, a block was opened, and autopsy and microscopic analyses were performed. At the first month, initial putrefaction had started, and hindlegs were partly skeletonized. At the second month, both forelegs and hindlegs were partly skeletonized, and the abdomen and back showed advanced putrefaction. At the third month, the samples showed areas of mummification at the abdomen within a general context of initial putrefaction. At the sixth month, the sample showed wide adipocere formation. Histological findings revealed in some analyzed tissues (epithelium, dermis, adipose, and subcutaneous muscular tissues) a well-defined histological pattern even at 3 months after encasement in concrete: this means that microscopic changes may be delayed in concrete and that it may be worth performing histological analyses even in such kind of decomposed material.”

Related content:
Discoblog: NCBI ROFL: The chemistry of pig sh*t.
Discoblog: NCBI ROFL: This little piggy went “Wee! Wee! Wee!” all while conducting electricity.
Discoblog: NCBI ROFL: The best use of CAT scans to date: bacon quality prediction.


Seriously, Science?

Seriously, Science?, formerly known as NCBI ROFL, is the brainchild of two prone-to-distraction biologists. We highlight the funniest, oddest, and just plain craziest research from the PubMed research database and beyond. Because nobody said serious science couldn't be silly!
Follow us on Twitter: @srslyscience.
Send us paper suggestions: srslyscience[at]gmail.com.

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