Science World

T-Rex’s Bite: Worse Than We Thought

Toothy smile of the Tyrannosaurus Rex (Photo: Michael Basial via Flickr)

Toothy smile of the Tyrannosaurus Rex (Photo: Michael Basial via Flickr)

When you hear the name Tyrannosaurus Rex, you probably think of a giant monster, the most fearsome dinosaur ever.  With a mouth full of teeth that can easily rip the flesh and crush bones, images of T-Rex can be quite frightening.

It turns out T-Rex’s bite was even more devastating than thought.

Scientists studying T-Rex’s toothy smile focus mostly on the huge and varying size of its teeth, but a Canadian paleontologist has gone beyond that.

After analyzing the teeth of the entire tyrannosaurid family of meat-eating dinosaurs, the University of Alberta’s Miriam Reichel found there is considerable variation in the serrated edges of the teeth.  These variations, or keels, not only cut through flesh and bone, but also guided the food into its mouth.

Reichel concluded from her research that the front teeth of the Tyrannosaurus Rex were designed to grip and pull. The teeth lining the side of the jaw pierced and ripped its prey’s flesh while its back teeth not only helped slice and dice the flesh, but also forced food to the back of the throat.

>>> Read more…

New Google privacy policy irks users

Google logos (Photo: (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, file)

Google logos (Photo: (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, file)

Quite a few Google users, privacy groups and several governments are miffed about Google’s new unified privacy policy which goes into effect tomorrow, March 1.

Besides its legendary search engine, Google has more than 60 internet-related services under its umbrella such as You Tube, Picassa, Google Maps and those Android mobile apps, to name a few.  Right now, each of those services has separate privacy policies which require you to provide information about yourself for each product you use.

The new policy will allow Google to take all of the information you’ve completed at each of those services and merge them into one master file.

The search engine giant says doing so would help make Google services more user friendly and allow for a customized online experience.

But there is outrage is over how much personal information Google will gain and maintain, not only from you directly, but by tracking each of your online movements, such as web searches and pages visited leading concern that, in the wrong hands, such information could prove to be harmful.

According to Reuters, France’s data protection regulator plans to launch an investigation into Google’s new privacy policy after a preliminary review suggested is does not conform to European laws which protect individuals’ privacy.

On this side of the ocean, besides the countless letters of protest that have been sent to Google’s CEO Larry Page and lawsuits filed by privacy rights organizations, the attorney’s general from more than 36 U.S. States have signed and sent a letter of complaint expressing concern about Google’s new “unified” privacy policy.

>>> Read more…

More Americans believe Earth is getting warmer

New research shows attitudes about global warming have been changing in the United States.

The Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C., think tank, released the latest results of its National Survey of American Public Opinion on Climate Change, which show a growing number of Americans believe global warming is occurring.

Sixty-two percent of  respondents said “yes” when asked  “is there solid evidence that the average temperature on Earth has been getting warmer,” while 26 percent said “no” and the remaining 12 percent answered “unknown” or “neutral.”

The survey, conducted by the University of Michigan and Muhlenberg College, points out that personal observations about the weather and temperature changes were key factors which influenced how people responded.

But, the survey also showed that most who responded that they do not see proof of increased temperatures believe that scientists and the media are distorting the evidence, with more than eight out of 10  nonbelievers saying scientists are overstating the evidence.

In 2008, the first year the survey was conducted, 72 percent believed the Earth was getting warmer, but the number dropped to 65 percent the following year and fell even further, to 58 percent, a year after that.

>>> Read more…

Are rich people ethical?

(Photo: Martin Deutsch via Flickr)

(Photo: Martin Deutsch via Flickr)

In the 1980’s movie “Wall Street,” antagonist  Gordon Gecko declares, “Greed is good.”

Now, researchers the University of California, Berkeley, have released the results of seven separate studies which find that upper-class participants were more likely to lie and cheat when gambling or negotiating, cut people off when driving, take candy reserved for children, and approve unethical behavior in the workplace.

The researchers measured the ethical tendencies of more than 1,000 people from lower, middle and upper-class backgrounds.  To help determine their social class rank, the subjects used an index called the MacArthur Scale of Subjective Socioeconomic Status.

The research subjects also filled out a number of surveys which exposed their attitudes about unprincipled behaviors and greed. They participated in various tasks designed to measure their actual unethical behavior.

“The increased unethical tendencies of upper-class individuals are driven, in part, by their more favorable attitudes toward greed,” says Paul Piff, a doctoral student in psychology at UC Berkeley and lead author of the study, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) .

The research was conducted on the UC Berkeley campus, in the San Francisco Bay area, and nationwide.

>>> Read more…

‘Faster than the Speed of Light’ Findings in Doubt

A view of the OPERA detector in Gran Sasso, Italy. Neutrino beams from CERN in Switzerland are sent over 700km through the Earth's crust to the laboratory in Italy. (Photo: CERN/Laboratori Nazionali del Gran Sasso/OPERA)

A view of the OPERA detector in Gran Sasso, Italy. Neutrino beams from CERN in Switzerland are sent over 700km through the Earth's crust to the laboratory in Italy. (Photo: CERN/Laboratori Nazionali del Gran Sasso/OPERA)

Scientists have found two technical glitches which could have an effect on last September’s findings that neutrinos were found to be traveling faster than the speed of light.

The scientific community was buzzing about the possibility  Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity –  which holds nothing travels faster than the speed of light – could be wrong.

The fuss started last year, when scientists from the Oscillation Project with Emulsion-Tracking Apparatus (OPERA) fired a beam of neutrinos – elementary particles which don’t hold an electrical charge and can pass through ordinary matter with virtually no interaction – from CERN’S particle accelerator in Geneva, Switzerland, to a laboratory in Italy, about 730 kilometers away.

The OPERA scientists found the sub-atomic particles traveled to the Italian lab at a speed of 300,006 kilometers per second, or 60 nanoseconds faster than the speed of light, which is 299,792.458 kilometers per second.

Now the folks from OPERA have identified two things that could have influenced its neutrino timing measurement. OPERA says these two recent findings still require further tests with a short-pulsed beam.

If the technical problems are confirmed, one of the effects would actually show that the neutrinos were traveling faster than originally measured, while the other  would show that the the sub-atomic particles were moving slower than measured, in other words, not faster than the speed of light.

OPERA says a problem with an oscillator used to provide the time stamps for GPS synchronizations in the experiment, could have led to an overestimate of the neutrinos’ time of flight.

The other concern has to do with the optical fiber connector that brings the external GPS signal to the OPERA master clock. If the master clock wasn’t functioning properly when the measurements were taken, it could have led to an underestimate of the time of flight of the neutrinos.

The scientists at OPERA are continuing their study of these two issues and have scheduled new measurements with short-pulsed beams for sometime in May.

Using Body Heat to Recharge Cellphone, Laptop

Wake Forest graduate student Corey Hewitt holds a piece of Power Felt developed in the Center for Nanotechnology and Molecular Materials. (Photo: Wake Forest University)

Wake Forest graduate student Corey Hewitt holds a piece of Power Felt developed in the Center for Nanotechnology and Molecular Materials. (Photo: Wake Forest University)

Imagine being able to use your own body heat to recharge your phone or tablet.

Scientists in North Carolina have recently  developed a felt-like fabric that generates power by scavenging for so-called  waste heat, such as body heat.

Right now, many of the electronic devices we use every day, such as cellphones or laptop computers, get their power from batteries.

But, as we  also know, even the best batteries eventually run low on power and need to be recharged.

What the Wake Forest  University scientists have done is develop technology that takes your body heat, along with other waste heat, and convert it to electrical energy.

Ahhhh!!! the battery's dead! (Photo: Ed Yourdon)

Ahhhh!!! the battery's dead! (Photo: Ed Yourdon)

Developed at the university’s Center for Nanotechnology and Molecular Materials, the material is made up of carbon nanotubes, tiny tube-shaped materials  made of carbon, which are held in flexible plastic fibers and made to feel like fabric.

The researchers say the thermoelectric technology behind Power Felt uses differences in temperature, such as room temperature versus body temperature, to create an electrical charge.

Professor David Carroll, director of the Center for Nanotechnology and Molecular Materials, says that thermoelectric technology, until now, has been tied to expensive hard ceramic material which is difficult to produce.

While the Power Felt technology might not be as high performing in producing thermoelectric power as its more expensive counterpart, Carroll points out the cost of producing the Power Felt material is much cheaper. Consequently, the total number of dollars per watt of generated power is significantly less in comparison.

Wake Forest physics professor Dr. David Carroll in his nanotechnology lab. (Photo: Wake Forest University)

Wake Forest physics professor Dr. David Carroll in his nanotechnology lab. (Photo: Wake Forest University)

Carroll says that there are many ways that Power Felt can be used at a consumer level.  Just like with a blanket, you could put the material over a variety of battery-powered devices, or wrap it around things like the handle of a flashlight, to get the extra juice needed to run those devices.

Other practical applications could include lining the seats of an automobile with Power Felt to boost the car’s battery power, insulating pipes or collecting heat from under your roof tiles to generate enough power to lower your gas or electric bills.

“Power Felt is best at supplementing the power that you already have,” says Carroll, adding that the greater the temperature differences, the more power the material generates.

Carroll says that the inspiration for Power Felt came from the concept of organic electronics, which he describes as flexible, printable, throw-away electronic devices.

In developing Power Felt, his team was out to create a textile that could literally be integrated into clothing, and then used to generate enough power, for example, to extend the battery of something critical like a pacemaker.

Thousands of times smaller than the average human hair, carbon nanotubes are extremely long and thin yet strong, making them a key nanotechnology structure. (Photo: NASA)

Thousands of times smaller than the average human hair, carbon nanotubes are extremely long and thin yet strong, making them a key nanotechnology structure. (Photo: NASA)

The whole idea for developing Power Felt technology, says  Carroll, is to try to address the electrical needs of mobile electronics.

“While our team was discussing what could we do to do this, it happened that my wife calls me on my cell phone,” Carroll says, “and if you have one of these smartphones, you could watch the power meter go down. The battery doesn’t last very long. And it became really evident that not just medical devices, but all kinds of devices that we carry with us every day, need supplemental power.”

According to Carroll, one way of providing the extra power needed for these devices is to invent a better, more efficient battery, but the costs of doing that could be very prohibitive.

Another way to do this, he suggests, is to generate power onboard the device by integrating thermoelectrical material, like Power Felt, into the construction of the electronic unit, like the plastic covering on a cellphone.

How much power does this Power Felt technology actually provide?

According to the team, 72 stacked layers in the fabric can yield about 140 nanowatts or 140 billionths of one watt of power. The team is continuing its work on the development of Power Felt and is evaluating several ways to add more nanotube layers and make them even thinner in order to boost output power.

Professor David Carroll joins us this weekend on the radio edition of “Science World.”   Professor Carroll tells us how their invention can easily and inexpensively help give you power to spare.  Tune in (see right column for scheduled times) or check out the interview below.

[audio://|titles=One On One – Dr. David Carroll – Power Felt]

Other stories we cover on the “Science World” radio program this week include:

Science Scanner: Scientists Discover New Type of Planet

Artist's conception of exoplanet GJ1214b orbiting a red dwarf star 40 light-years from Earth (Photo: David A. Aguilar (CfA))

Artist's conception of exoplanet GJ1214b orbiting a red dwarf star 40 light-years from Earth (Photo: David A. Aguilar (CfA))

Data from the Hubble Space Telescope has revealed a new class of planet, one which is water-covered and has a steamy atmosphere.

We currently have three types of planets in our Solar System; rocky (Earth, Venus, Mercury and Mars), gas giants (Saturn and Jupiter) and ice giants (Uranus and Neptune).

While studying the exoplanet, GJ 1214b, astronomers found it to be like no other known planet because a significant portion of its mass is made up of water.

The GJ 1214b, discovered back in 2009, is about 2.7 times Earth’s diameter and weighs almost seven times as much.

GJ 1214b orbits a red-dwarf star every 38 hours at a distance of two million kilometers, and scientists estimate that it has a temperature of 230 degrees Celsius.

Scientists determined a type of haze that surrounds the planet is, most likely, the result of the planet’s steamy atmosphere.

Astronomers calculate the exoplanet has more water and is less rocky than Earth.

The astronomers say that GJ 1214b is located in the constellation of Ophiuchus (The Serpent Bearer), about 40 light-years from Earth.

>>> Read more…

Why Earth has active volcanoes while the moon doesn’t

Image of an artificial moon rock sample, measuring about half a millimeter across (Image: Nature)

Image of an artificial moon rock sample, measuring about half a millimeter across (Image: Nature)

Earth is in a constant state of change and evolution thanks in part to the active volcanism taking place throughout our planet.

The moon also has a history of volcano activity, but evidence of its volcanic past dates back billions of years.

So, if both the Earth and moon have a history of volcanism, why doesn’t the moon currently have active volcanoes?

Scientists are puzzled because many of the rocks on the moon’s surface are thought to be molten and recent moon-quake data suggests there is a huge supply of liquid magma deep within its surface.

A team of European scientists now thinks the reason the moon lacks current volcanic activity is because the magma – hot, molten rock deep within the moon’s interior – might be so dense that it is simply too heavy to rise to the surface.

The researchers created microscopic copies of moon rock collected by the Apollo missions and then melted them at the extremely high pressures and temperatures found inside the moon. They then measured the density of these melted rocks with powerful x-rays.

The scientists found small droplets of titanium-rich glass that produce a liquid magma as dense as the rocks that are found in the deepest parts of the lunar mantle today.

Scientists say, since the magma was so dense, it would not be able to move towards the surface the same way magma on Earth does during a volcanic eruption.

>>> Read more…

Ancient rock art found in Brazil

This is the oldest reliably dated petroglyph ever found in the New World. (Photo/Image: Neves WA, Araujo AGM, Bernardo DV, Kipnis R, Feathers JK (2012) Rock Art at the Pleistocene/Holocene Boundary in Eastern South America. PLoS ONE 7(2): e32228. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0032228)

This is the oldest reliably dated petroglyph ever found in the New World. (Photo/Image: Neves WA, Araujo AGM, Bernardo DV, Kipnis R, Feathers JK (2012) Rock Art at the Pleistocene/Holocene Boundary in Eastern South America. PLoS ONE 7(2): e32228. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0032228)

Back on Earth, researchers recently found an extremely old human-like figure engraved in rock in central Brazil.

The engraving, or petroglyph,was found in an ancient limestone rock shelter called Lapa do Santo.

According to the researchers’ report, the petroglyph dates back to between 9,000 and 12,000 years ago, which would make it  the oldest reliably-dated specimen of this kind of rock art ever found in the Americas.

New World art produced during the time this discovery was engraved is quite rare.  Because of the rarity of this type of rock art, scientists know little about the differences of symbolic thinking of those who settled the Americas thousands of years ago.

Authors of this study suggest symbolic thought in South America was very diverse at that time, and that their discovery shows humans settled the New World earlier than first thought.

>>> Read more…

Scientists find new life forms deep within the Earth’s surface

Plutomurus ortobalaganensis found nearly 2 kilometers under ground (Image: University of Navarra)

Plutomurus ortobalaganensis found nearly two kilometers underground. (Image: University of Navarra)

Scientists exploring what’s been called the world’s deepest cave say that they’ve found a new species of arthropod that lives and thrives deep underground.

The creature, Plutomurus ortobalaganensis, is a tiny, primitive, wingless and eyeless, six-legged insect which lives in total darkness.

The scientists say the discovery of life in such a deep environment should provide new insight into how we look at life on Earth.

Since they live without light and have extremely limited food resources, animals such as the Plutomurus ortobalaganensis have had to develop some uncommon methods of surviving in its subterranean environment.

The new creature was found 1,980 meters below ground level in the Krubera or Voronja Cave, located in Abkhazia, a remote area near the Black Sea in the mountains of Western Caucasus.

The Krubera/Voronja cave reaches a depth of more than two kilometers below the surface of the Earth.

>>> Read more…

Google Inspires Software for Chemists

A chemist in the northwestern U.S. state of Washington has taken some of the technology behind Google’s powerful Internet search engine and has applied it to chemistry.

Aurora Clark,  associate professor of chemistry at Washington State University, along with colleagues from the University of Arizona, recently took Google’s PageRank software and adapted it to create a software package for chemists.

MoleculaRnetworks,  the new software, allows chemists to determine various molecular shapes and chemical reactions without the added expense and logistics of traditional laboratory experimentation.

Also, by using this software, the chemist can work in a safer environment and avoid the occasional dangers of lab-based experiments.

The principles of Google's PageRank (Image: Felipe Micaroni Lalli via Wikipedia Commons)

The principles of Google's PageRank (Image: Felipe Micaroni Lalli via Wikipedia Commons)

Google’s PageRank is a web analysis algorithm which was developed at Stanford University.

PageRank analyzes the trillions of Web pages on the Internet and then assigns a PageRank or a numeric ranking, which indicates how important a particular Web page is.

That “importance” is based upon how many links, or hyperlinks, point to a particular Web page.

Consequently, when you run a Web search on Google, it lists results according to their page rank, giving you the most important Web pages that best fit your search query.

According to Clark, it was Barbara Mooney, a student doing research in her laboratory, who brought PageRank technology to the team’s attention.

Having done work with a computer programming language called “R”, which contains a PageRank module, Mooney suggested the Google algorithm might be able to provide an analysis of the chemistry in the models and systems the team was looking at.

The moleculaRnetworks software, developed by Clark’s research team, focuses on what chemists call hydrogen bonds – the attraction of hydrogen atoms to other atoms like nitrogen, oxygen or fluorine – in water, earth’s most plentiful solvent.

Water plays a significant role in almost every biological process and can perform key functions in living things.

But, Clark noted these processes can be incredibly complicated, are constantly changing within fractions of a second, and can assume countless possible forms.

3D model of hydrogen bonds in water (Photo: Qwerter via Wikimedia Commons)

3D model of hydrogen bonds in water (Photo: Qwerter via Wikimedia Commons)

As Clark explains it, when their software is performing its analysis, it treats various intermolecular interactions in the same way Google’s PageRank treats Web page hyperlinks.

This allows the chemists to take a “snapshot” of how hundreds of thousands of molecules are interacting with one another.

Clark’s work as a computational chemist mostly centers on heavy, toxic metals, such uranium, plutonium and lead, and how they travel through the environment.

Water, of course, is a major part of the environment and Clark is interested in how those metals behave in water, including its reactivity.

The way water organizes around a particular metal determines its reactivity.

According to Clark, the PageRank technology that was applied to their moleculaRnetworks software was very good at describing water’s organizational features and providing an instantaneous view of all the activity, which allowed her to determine the metal’s reactivity.

In the future, Clark and her team hope the software can help scientists design drugs, investigate various diseases and analyze radioactive pollutants.

Professor Aurora Clark joins us this weekend on the radio edition of “Science World.”   Professor Clark tells us how one student’s idea sparked the development of the software, as well as how it could help chemists make new advancements.  Tune in (see right column for scheduled times) or check out the interview below.

[audio://|titles=One On One – Professor Aurora Clark – moleculaRnetworks]

Other stories we cover on the “Science World” radio program this week include:

Science Scanner: Swiss Launch Attack on Space Junk

The Swiss are taking aim at space junk – the thousands of man-made objects launched into space over the years which have accumulated into a virtual junkyard filled with now-useless debris, like spent rocket stages and old satellites.

NASA's concept of Space Debris surrounding Earth (Photo: NASA)

NASA's is tracking the space debris surrounding Earth (Photo: NASA)

NASA keeps a close eye on about 16,000 of these objects and scientists have expressed concern about the potential hazards they pose for spacecraft.

However, not a lot has really been done to address the problem.

But now the Swiss are coming to the rescue.  The Swiss Space Center at EPFL announced today that it’s launching  CleanSpace One, which will develop and build the first part of a group of satellites specifically designed to clean up space debris.

“It has become essential to be aware of the existence of this debris and the risks that are run by its proliferation,” says Claude Nicollier, astronaut and EPFL professor.

Project members estimate that the design and construction of CleanSpace One, as well as its maiden space voyage, will cost about 10 million Swiss francs.

They’re hopeful their first space clean-up job will take place within five years.

>>> Read more…

Cellphone users shown to be selfish

Talking on the cell phone may reduce the desire to connect with others, say UMD researchers (Photo: John Consoli/UMD)

Talking on the cell phone may reduce the desire to connect with others, say UMD researchers (Photo: John Consoli/UMD)

A new University of Maryland study links cellphone use to selfish behavior.

Researchers focused on test subjects who were mostly in their early 20s. They found that, after using their cellphones for a relatively short period of time,  the group was less likely to volunteer for a community service activity, which was different from the control group.

The study also found that those who used their cell phones were not as determined to solve word problems, even when a monetary donation to charity was used as a motivating factor.

The researchers also noted that the cellphone users decreased focus on others even when the test subjects were only asked to draw a picture of their cellphones and think about how they used them.

>>> Read more…

New test provides early insight into risk of developing dementia, having a stroke

(Photo: Sean Hagen via Creative Commons/Flickr)

Tests such as gauging walking speed can be used to determine whether or not a person develops dementia. (Photo: Sean Hagen via Creative Commons/Flickr)

Doctors may soon be able to tell if a middle-aged patient will develop dementia or suffer a stroke with simple tests such as gauging walking speed and measuring hand grip strength.

That’s according to new research released today by the American Academy of Neurology.

“These are basic office tests which can provide insight into risk of dementia and stroke and can be easily performed by a neurologist or general practitioner,” said Erica Camargo, with Boston Medical Center.

Tests for walking speed, hand grip and cognitive function were given to more than 2,400 men and women with an average age of 62.

The researchers also performed brain scans on their subjects.

During a follow-up period of up to 11 years, the researchers found that of all the people tested, 34 had developed dementia and 70 people suffered a stroke.

The study revealed that middle aged people with a slower walking speed were 1.5 times more likely to develop dementia as compared to those who had a faster walking speed.

In people over the age of 65, those with a stronger hand grip had a 42 percent lower risk of having a stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA) as compared to those who had weaker hand grip strength.

However, the study found that this was not the necessarily the case for people who were under 65 years old.

>>> Read more…

Mid-life choices could determine whether you have a long and happy life

(Photo: Sigfrid Lundberg via Creative Commons/Flickr)

(Photo: Sigfrid Lundberg via Creative Commons/Flickr)

And finally, one of the oldest and most frequent questions humans ponder is “How do we live a long and happy life?”

Harvard University has researched the answer to that question for 74 years and they’ve found where you are in mid-life could impact how long and how well you live into old age.

They’ve learned that what you’re doing and experiencing at age 50 has more of an impact on your health and happiness when you’re 70, than what happened to you in earlier times of your life.

One finding shows that the better vacations you take when you’re still young, which provides a measure of your ability to play, can better indicate your happiness later in life than, believe it or not, your income.

Also important to later-life happiness, according to the study, is a healthy and stable marriage.  The researchers say this underscores how important it is to have mature coping skills to be ready for the troubles and adversities that may come later in life.

“We used to think that if you had relatives who lived to a ripe old age, that was the best predictor of a long life,” said Robert Waldinger, director of the Harvard Study. “It turns out that the lifestyle choices people make in midlife are a more important predictor of how long you live.”

>>> Read more…

Babies Understand You More Than You Know

(Photo: Trei Brundrett via Flickr/Creative Commons)

(Photo: Trei Brundrett via Flickr/Creative Commons)

Babies between six and nine months of age understand the meaning of some spoken words, according a new University of Pennsylvania study, which challenges previous beliefs about early childhood learning.

Although many babies vocalize aloud with sounds such as “ba ba,” “da da” and “goo goo,” the study finds they can still learn the meanings of words for foods and body parts, through daily experiences and interactions with caregivers.

Babies have been thought to understand certain sounds related to their native languages, but experts believed babies between 6 to 9 months old – often referred to as “pre-linguistic” – did not have the ability to understand the meaning of spoken words.

It was thought that children’s word comprehension abilities really didn’t appear until they were closer to the first birthday.

The researchers reached their conclusion after completing  two kinds of tests.

For the first test, the baby, while sitting on their caregiver’s lap faced a screen that had the images of one food item and one body part.

Wearing headphones, the caregiver was fed statements like, “Look at the apple” or “Where’s the apple?” to repeat to the child.

As a precaution, the caregivers also wore visors to keep them from looking at the screen. Using an eye-tracking device, which showed where a child was looking and when, the researchers were able to follow the child’s gaze.

The second test, instead of displaying a food item and body part on the screen,  showed objects arranged in natural contexts, such as a few foods laid out on a table or a human figure.

The researchers used both tests to see whether the baby, after hearing a word for something on the screen, would look at that specific object more, indicating that they understood the spoken word.

A baby participates in the study of language acquisition. (Photo: University of Pennsylvania)

A baby participates in the study of language acquisition. (Photo: University of Pennsylvania)

The test results showed the 6-to-9-month-old babies tended to fix their gaze more on the picture named by their caregiver rather than on the other images on display.

For the researchers, this demonstrated that the babies are able to understand the word associated with the appropriate object.

The researchers tested 33 6- to-9 month-old children.

They also gave the same tests to 50 children between 10-to-20 months of age, in order to compare test results of the younger children with those who were older.

Interestingly, the researchers found no noticeable improvement in word recognition in 8-and-9-month-old babies as compared to 6-to-7 month olds.

Researchers found little improvement until the children reached roughly 14 months, at which point word recognition spiked dramatically.

The researchers think that increase in the babies’ performance may either be due to the little ones being able to better understand the nature of the task because it’s part of a game they’re playing, or that it may be due to natural language development.

Debate Over Global Warming/Climate Change Heats Up

Hardly a week goes by that we aren’t reporting a story on concerns about global warming.

But, a growing number of people in the scientific community are coming forward to express doubts about the prevailing scientific opinions concerning global warming.

Recently, 16 respected scientists signed a letter, published in the Wall Street Journal, which indicated there is no need to panic about global warming, arguing there’s no compelling scientific argument for drastic action to ‘decarbonize‘ the world’s economy.

A few days after the letter appeared, NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) released a study which finds human activity contributes to global warming.

The NASA study, “Earth’s energy imbalance and implications,” was recently published in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics.

The study was led by James Hansen, director of  GISS, a respected scientist who is well known for his work in climatology.

Data collected by Argo floats, such as this one, helped Dr. Hansen's team improve the calculation of Earth's energy imbalance. (Photo: Argo Project Office)

Data collected by Argo floats, such as this one, helped Dr. Hansen’s team improve the calculation of Earth’s energy imbalance. (Photo: Argo Project Office)

Many say it was his testimony on climate change before the US Congress in 1988, that was responsible for increasing awareness of global warming and climate change, bringing the issue to the forefront of the public’s consciousness.

At the heart of the new paper is an emphasis that greenhouse gases generated by human activity – and not changes in solar activity – are the primary force driving global warming.

The study calculated the balance of energy the Earth takes in from the sun, the amount of energy that’s absorbed by the surface of the Earth and compared it to what energy is returned from the Earth to space in the form of heat.

The researchers found, despite unusually low solar activity between 2005 and 2010, Earth continued to absorb more energy than it returned to space.

Dr. Gavin Schmidt, a colleague of Dr. Hansen’s at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, tells us that basically, we’re putting greenhouse gases – which are primarily water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone – into the atmosphere, making it harder for energy coming in from the sun and processed by Earth’s climate systems to make it back out to space.

Schmidt says that their research showed that temperatures are changing because of increases in greenhouse gases.  The increased emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere keep more energy trapped near the ground than what would be considered normal.

Dr. Gavin Schmidt (Photo: NASA/GISS)

Dr. Gavin Schmidt (Photo: NASA/GISS)

That imbalance – more energy coming into Earth than is leaving it – is part of the whole global warming story.

As far as other evidence supporting the theory of human-caused global warming, Dr. Schmidt points to conditions such as the temperature changes that scientists are recording around the world; the heat content changes in the ocean; stratospheric cooling, which he says is a “very clear signature of carbon dioxide;” as well as the spectral radiation scientists are measuring from satellites.

Dr. Schmidt says those along, with other signs to look for, such as sea ice, the phenology of plants and glacial melting, prove that the actual fact of warming is incontrovertible, that the planet has clearly warmed over the last 100 years and that the warming has increased over the last few decades.

Dr. William Happer, a professor of physics at Princeton University is one of the 16 scientists who signed the Wall Street Journal letter, and he raises doubts about what has almost become conventional wisdom on global warming.

Dr. Happer also testified before Congress, in 2009, saying, “I believe that the increase of CO2 is not a cause for alarm and will be good for mankind.”

Dr. Happer says the Wall Street Journal letter is the result of a scientific examination of  global warming and increasing CO2, which found “there’s more smoke than fire there,” and demonstrates that not all scientists think there’s a drastic problem that must be immediately addressed.

Dr. William Happer (Photo: Denise Applewhite, Princeton University Office of Communication)

Dr. William Happer (Photo: Denise Applewhite, Princeton University Office of Communication)

The Wall Street Journal letter was directed toward “candidates running for public office in any contemporary democracy who may have to consider what, if anything, to do about ‘global warming.’”

The signatories of the letter said that they were speaking for “many scientists and engineers, who have looked carefully and independently at the science of climate,” and that their basic message to the candidates was that, “there is no compelling scientific argument for drastic action to “decarbonize” the world’s economy. Even if one accepts the inflated climate forecasts of the IPCC, aggressive greenhouse-gas control policies are not justified economically.”

Many people today believe that anthropogenic global warming is a cold, hard and irrefutable fact.  But, scientists such as Dr. Happer say this might not necessarily be true.

Dr. Happer describes climate change as happening all the time, that it’s been changing and that it has clearly warmed up over the last 200 years.  But Dr. Happer insists the current warming trend started from a very cold period at the end of what has been called the “little ice age”.

“Most of the warming you hear about and most of the glacier melting was over by 1900,” says Dr. Happer.

Dr. Happer finds it hard to believe the early phase of the warming, which he says is the biggest part, was all independent of CO2 because its levels hadn’t increased much before 1900.

In the Wall Street Journal letter, Dr. Happer points out there has been no warming for over 10 years.  He invites anyone to “look it up on the Internet.”

CO2 (Image: David Gaya/Generated with KPovModeler via Wikimedia)

CO2 (Image: David Gaya/Generated with KPovModeler via Wikimedia)

“Just look at the graph of temperature versus time since the year 2000 and there has been no warming,” says Dr. Happer.

According to Dr. Happer, the data implies that the models, which predicted quite a lot of warming, have greatly exaggerated the effect of C02.

Dr. Happer thinks that most, if not all, of those who signed the letter believe  CO2 will cause some warming but that the amount has been enormously exaggerated.

You, of course, can find volumes and volumes of information and data that support both sides of this issue on the Internet or in your local library.

But, by sharing what Drs. Happer and Schmidt shared with us on this issue, we wanted to give you just a little “food for thought” so that you draw your own conclusions regarding global warming and whether or not it’s been primarily caused by human activity.

Both Dr. Gavin Schmidt, from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and, Dr. William Happer of Princeton University join us this weekend on the radio edition of “Science World.”

They’ll each give us their insight into the global warming/climate change issue. Tune in (see right column for scheduled times).

Other stories we cover on the “Science World” radio program this week include:

Science Scanner: Russian Researchers Reach Ancient Antarctic Lake

Russian researchers at the Vostok station in Antarctica after reaching subglacial Lake Vostok. (Photo: AP/Arctic and Antarctic Research Insitute of St. Petersburg)

Russian researchers at the Vostok station in Antarctica after reaching subglacial Lake Vostok. (Photo: AP/Arctic and Antarctic Research Insitute of St. Petersburg)

After 20 years of drilling, Russian scientists say they’ve reached Lake Vostok, Antarctica‘s largest subglacial lake, which has been buried nearly four kilometers below the ice sheet for about 20 million years.

The development could lead to the discovery of new life forms which existed before the Ice Age.  Scientists hope to find material that could help in the search for life on other planets – such as in the ice-encrusted moons of Jupiter and Saturn or under Mars’ polar ice caps – where conditions could be similar.

“There is no other place on Earth that has been in isolation for more than 20 million years,” Lev Savatyugin, a researcher with Russia’s Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute (AARI), told the Associated Press. “It’s a meeting with the unknown.”

Savatyugin told the AP that scientists hope they’ll find primeval bacteria that could further human knowledge of the origins of life.

“We need to see what we have here before we send missions to ice-crust moons, like Jupiter’s moon Europa,” he said.

The project has not been without controversy.  Some environmentalists worried the Russian team’s use of 60 metric tons of lubricants and antifreeze in the drilling process could contaminate the unspoiled lake.

But project’s researchers have said their drill bore would only slightly touch the surface of the lake. The resulting surge in pressure, once the drill made it through the ice and into the lake, would send the water rushing up the drill shaft where it would immediately freeze, which the Russian scientists say, would seal out the toxic chemicals.

>>> Read more…

Spanking your kids may cause long-term harm

“Spare the rod and spoil the child” as the old saying goes, but a new study from Canada shows spanking and other forms of physical punishment is harmful to the long-term development of children.

The study’s authors analyzed 20 years of research and found, virtually without exception, “that physical punishment was associated with higher levels of aggression against parents, siblings, peers and spouses.”

For the study, researchers developed methods of discipline designed to both reduce difficult behavior in children and help the parents cut back on physical punishment like spanking.

Parents in 500 families were trained in and encouraged to use these methods.

After a trial period, the researchers found that as physical punishment was reduced, so too were the difficult behaviors exhibited by the children.

Spanking and other forms of physical punishment has been associated in past studies with a variety of mental health problems, like depression, anxiety and drug and alcohol use.

Recent neuroimaging studies also suggest that physical forms of punishment could alter parts of the brain that are linked to performance on IQ tests and increase vulnerability to drug or alcohol dependence.

Over the years, parenting attitudes toward using physical punishment have changed, with many countries  shifting instead to a focus on positive discipline of children.  Some countries have legally abolished physical punishment.

>>> Read more…

Sea Monster is oldest living thing in the world

Posidonia oceanica (Photo: Albert Kok via Wikimedia Commons)

Posidonia oceanica (Photo: Albert Kok via Wikimedia Commons)

An international research team says that they have found the oldest living thing on Earth and it’s a monster!

Actually it’s a giant ancient sea grass called Posidonia oceanica.  One single organism of this species of sea grass has been found to span up to 15 kilometers wide, reaching a mass of more than 6,000 metric tons.

Reproducing asexually, it generates clones and may well be more than 100,000 years old.

The researchers studied 40 meadows of the sea grass across 3,500 kilometers of the Mediterranean Sea.   The scientists developed and used various computer models that helped demonstrate the species clonal reproductive system which they say allowed the Posidonia oceanica to spread and maintain high-quality clones over the years.   The researchers point out that even the hardiest genotypes of organisms that can only reproduce sexually are disappear with each generation.

“Clonal organisms have an extraordinary capacity to transmit only ‘highly competent’ genomes, through generations, with potentially no end,” says Professor Carlos Duarte, director of the University of Western Australia’s Ocean’s Institute.

But, scientists say that sea grass, which serves as the foundation of key coastal ecosystems, have declined globally for the past 20 years and that the Posidonia oceanica meadows are now decreasing by an annual estimated rate of five percent.

“The concern is that while Posidonia oceanica meadows have thrived for millennia their current decline suggests they may no longer be able to adapt to the unprecedented rate of global climate change,” said the researchers in their report.

>>> Read more…

New discovery may allow faster more efficient hard drives

Experimental images showing the repeated deterministic switching of nano islands. Initially the two nano islands have different magnetic orientation (black and white respectively). (Photo: Johan Mentink and Alexey Kimel, Radboud University Nijmegen; Richard Evans, University of York)

Experimental images showing the repeated deterministic switching of nano islands. Initially the two nano islands have different magnetic orientation (black and white respectively). (Photo: Johan Mentink and Alexey Kimel, Radboud University Nijmegen; Richard Evans, University of York)

A radical new technique of magnetic recording allows information to be processed hundreds of times faster than current hard drive technology allows.

An international team of scientists, led by the University of York’s Department of Physics, has developed and demonstrated the technique.

Instead of using the traditional method of using magnetism to record information onto ferrous material, the researchers used heat to record information, something that has long been thought to be unimaginable.

The researchers believe this finding will not only make future magnetic recording devices faster, but would also allow them to be more energy-efficient, too.

“Instead of using a magnetic field to record information on a magnetic medium, we harnessed much stronger internal forces and recorded information using only heat,” said York physicist Thomas Ostler. “This revolutionary method allows the recording of Terabytes of information per second, hundreds of times faster than present hard drive technology. As there is no need for a magnetic field, there is also less energy consumption.”

The principle that has long been used in magnetic recording technology is that the North Pole of a magnet is attracted to the South Pole of another and two poles that are alike will repel one another. Until this discovery it’s been thought that you had to apply an external magnetic field to be able to record just one bit of information.

But this new method of magnetic recording showed that the positions of both the North and South poles of a magnet can be reversed by an ultra-short heat pulse, which they say harnesses the power of much stronger internal forces within magnetic media.

>>> Read more…

Should Sugar be a Controlled Substance?

Mmmmm ice cream (Photo: Katy Warner via Flickr)

Mmmmm a sweet treat! (Photo: Katy Warner via Flickr)

If you love your cookies and candy and can’t go a day without  your favorite soda or daily ice cream cone, then a new warning about the dangers of  sugar is bound to leave a bitter taste in your mouth.

California researchers are calling for sugar to be treated like a controlled substance – similar to alcohol and tobacco – in order to protect public health.

The researchers, from University of California, San Francisco (UCSF),  assert that sugar is fueling a global obesity pandemic, contributing to 35 million deaths annually worldwide from non-communicable diseases like diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

The UCSF team argues  sugar is more than just empty calories which can make you fat. The team points out that sugar – taken in at levels typical of most Americans – alters a person’s metabolism, raises blood pressure, severely affects how our hormones send out signals to our body and causes substantial liver damage.

They compare the health hazards of sugar to the effects of drinking too much alcohol.

“There are good calories and bad calories, just as there are good fats and bad fats, good amino acids and bad amino acids, good carbohydrates and bad carbohydrates,” says  Dr. Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist at UCSF.  “But sugar is toxic beyond its calories.”

The commentary, published in Nature,  suggests than just educating people about the potential toxicity of sugar is needed.

“We recognize that there are cultural and celebratory aspects of sugar,” said Claire Brindis, a public health expert. “Changing these patterns is very complicated.”

Team members assert that focusing on just individual change alone may not be enough to effectively address this issue.  Instead, the team would like to see methods similar to how public health issues with alcohol and tobacco were handled.

(Photo: Ayelie via Flickr)

(Photo: Ayelie via Flickr)

These approaches might be the same as those used to reduce the consumption of tobacco and alcohol products; such as levying special sales taxes, controlling access to the product, and tightening licensing requirements on vending machines and snack bars that sell high-sugar products in schools and workplaces.

“We’re not talking prohibition,” says Laura Schmidt, a health policy professor. “We’re not advocating a major imposition of the government into people’s lives. We’re talking about gentle ways to make sugar consumption slightly less convenient, thereby moving people away from the concentrated dose. What we want is to actually increase people’s choices by making foods that aren’t loaded with sugar comparatively easier and cheaper to get.”

As you might expect, the Sugar Association, which represents sugar manufacturers in the United States, takes issue with the commentary, calling it  “non-scientific and irresponsible.”

The organization says the report lacks the scientific evidence or consensus to justify the report’s recommended policy interventions.

(Photo: Amarand Agasi via Flickr)

(Photo: Amarand Agasi via Flickr)

The Sugar Association argues it is irresponsible for health professionals to instill public fear by using words like “diabetes,” “cancer,” and even “death,” without admitting the science in this area is inconclusive.

The American Council on Science and Health (ACSH), an organization founded by scientists concerned that many important public health policies aren’t backed by  sound scientific evidence, agrees.

In a statement published on the organization’s website, Dr. Josh Bloom, ACSH’s director of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Sciences, says, “The peg on which Dr. Lustig hangs his entire argument is flawed. Most fruits have quite a bit more fructose than sucrose. Does this make an apple unhealthy and in need of regulation? The fructose in an apple is the same fructose that is demonized in high fructose corn syrup. You can’t have it both ways.”

We’d like to know your opinion. Do you think sugar is toxic and should be controlled in ways similar to how alcohol and tobacco currently are?