October 31, 2014

San Francisco Giants World Series Victory Parade Highlights

EH Science, based in San Francisco, congratulates the San Francisco Giants!

In honor of the Giants' latest World Series win, we bring you highlights from the victory parade. The parade featured each player with his family and friends atop double-decker busses decorated in orange and black, along with trolly cars, pedi-cabs, and floats. Fans cheered their local team all along the Embarcadero, along Steuart Street, and up Market Street as the parade wound slowly through downtown. Enjoy our highlight video!

Neither city officials nor the police have given an official estimate of how many people attended the parade and celebration, although Police Chief Greg Suhr said the number of officers patrolling the streets Friday was at least 20 percent higher than usual.

October 30, 2014

Birds May Inspire Running Robots of the Future

In preparation for building better running robots, researchers have made useful discoveries about some of nature's most energy efficient bipeds – running birds.
The forces at work when a turkey hops over an obstacle
(Oregon State University)
Running birds have an impressive ability to run while minimizing energy cost, avoiding falls or injuries, and maintaining speed and direction. Researchers at Oregon State University have been trying to discover exactly how the birds do it.

"Birds appear to be the best of bipedal terrestrial runners, with a speed and agility that may trace back 230 million years to their dinosaur ancestors," says Jonathan Hurst, an associate professor and robotics expert in the Oregon State College of Engineering.

The researchers began their study thinking that total body stability would be a priority, since it might help avoid falls and leg injuries. However, that's not what they found.

October 29, 2014

New Solar Power Material Converts 90 Percent of Sunlight into Energy

Solar power is on the verge of becoming a lot cheaper, more efficient, and longer lasting. 
Graduate student Bryan VanSaders
works on the new solar material
(David Baillot/UC San Diego 
Jacobs School of Engineering)

A team of scientists at the University of California, San Diego has developed a new material for concentrating solar power (CSP). The new material can absorb and convert more than 90 percent of the sunlight it captures into heat.

The new material is incredibly efficient because it has a multi-scale surface, which is made up of particles of many sizes ranging from 10 nanometers to 10 micrometers. Those different-sized particles give it a lot of surface area to capture and retain sunlight, hence the material's high efficiency.

CSP is an emerging alternative clean energy market that currently produces about 3.5 gigawatts worth of power around the globe. That's enough to power more than 2 million homes. Additional construction is underway to increase the output to 20 gigawatts of power in coming years, but how?

October 28, 2014

How a Human, Bird, and Grasshopper Breath

This informative illustration of how three different animals breath is the work of Eleanor Lutz, a designer with a degree in molecular biology. The animated infographic shows how humans breath in and out in sequence through the nose and mouth. Birds have multi-chambered lungs that can process incoming air and outgoing air simultaneously-- a very efficient system for running and flying. Grasshoppers, on the other hand, essentially breath with their whole bodies.

3 Different Ways to Breath, created by Eleanor Lutz, 2014
"This month's infographic is packed with actual science," Lutz explains. "I decided to illustrate how different animals breathe, and I picked three species that I thought were particularly awesome. The topic really lends itself to a short looped GIF so that was an added plus."

October 27, 2014

Using Microscopic Bugs to Save the Honeybees

For several decades, honeybees have been ravaged by a deadly disease that kills their babies and leads to the collapse of entire hives. The disease is called American Foulbrood and its effects are so devastating and infectious that beekeepers often have to incinerate infected hives.
Beekeepers check the health of a hive
(Brian Wilcox)

Treating bees for Foulbrood is complicated because the disease can rapidly evolve to resist antibiotics and other chemical treatments. For the past few decades, beekeepers have been losing hives at an alarming rate with no cure in sight. Losing entire hives not only disrupts the honey supply, but reduces the number of bees for pollinating all of the plants that people need to eat and breath. In short, we need the pollinators.

Fortunately, researchers at Brigham Young University in Utah have developed a natural way to eliminate the scourge, and it appears to be working. 

October 24, 2014

Florida Lizards Evolving Rapidly: Visible Change in 15 Years, 20 Generations

Scientists working in Florida have documented the high-speed evolution of a native lizard species, in as little as 15 years, in response to pressure from an invading lizard species.

Left hind foot of a green anole, with enlarged toepads
(Yoel Stuart)
After contact with the invasive brown anole lizards, the native green anole lizards began perching higher in the trees. With each generation, their feet have changed to become better at gripping the thinner, smoother branches found higher up.

According to the research team, the change occurred at an astonishing pace. Within a few months of first contact, native lizards began shifting to higher perches. Over the course of just 15 years and 20 generations, the green anoles' toe pads had become noticeably larger, with more sticky scales.

October 23, 2014

Hikers: Physics Professor Finds Best Backpack Weight

Hikers are often advised that the weight of the packs they carry should be a percentage of their body weight, so smaller individuals must carry lighter loads, right? Wrong. Smaller hikers actually carry heavier loads, and there is a much more accurate way to figure out how heavy a backpack a hiker can carry.

A group of backpackers hike on an Outward 
Bound course in the La Sal Mountains, UT.
(M. O'Shea/KSU)

While leading students on extended (more than seven days) backpacking trips for Outward Bound, Kansas State University physics professor Michael O'Shea noticed that some of the smaller students could comfortably carry a greater pack weight than the larger ones of similar fitness levels. 

"Overall strength of an individual does not determine how heavy a backpack a person can comfortably carry," he says.

Hikers must carry not only their packs, but also their own body weight, so O'Shea developed a way to more accurately estimate the optimal pack weight for a given hiker to carry.

October 22, 2014

Goats in the Italian Alps Are Shrinking

Alpine goats appear to be shrinking in size, according to new research from Durham University.
Juvenile Alpine Chamois in the Italian Alps
(Tom Mason)

The researchers studied the body size of Alpine Chamois, a species of mountain goat, over the past 30 years. To their surprise, they discovered that young Chamois now weigh about 25 percent less than animals of the same age in the 1980s. That's a big change in a short period of time.

When the team investigated long-term records of Chamois body weights and average temperatures in Italian Alps, they discovered a correlation between the decrease in mountain goat body weight and the warming climate in the region, which became 3-4 degrees C warmer over the 30 years of the study.

October 21, 2014

"Bluefin" Killifish Sport Red, Yellow, and Black Fins-- What Do the Colors Mean?

Fish use their fins to swim, but fins can also advertise a fish's social status and health. In a new study, researchers report that for the male bluefin killifish (Lucania goodei), each colorful fin communicates different messages to other fish.

The pigment melanin contributes to the black edges (b) 
on the anal fin that are a sign of dominance, while pterins 
account for the red and yellow colors (a) on the anal fin, 
and signal health. Carotenoids on the caudal fin (c) indicate that 
the fish is eating well. (L. Brian Stauffer)
They're called "bluefin" killifish, but these fish often have red, yellow and/or black markings on their fins. University of Illinois animal biology professor Rebecca Fuller noticed these colorful fins while snorkeling in Florida and decided to find out what causes the variation.

"In some of the males, the anal fin was yellow, and then some of them were red," Fuller says. "And the field guide showed them as blue." Some of the males had darker black markings on their anal fins than others, and some had bright yellow or orange tail fins. So what was going on?

October 20, 2014

Can your birth season affect your mood later in life?

Researchers from Budapest, Hungary have found a correlation between birth season and moods. 

The team is trying to discover if people born at certain times of year may have a greater chance of developing certain types of affective temperaments, which in turn can lead to mood disorders (affective disorders). While these findings may sound like the stuff of pseudoscience and folklore, the work is being presented at the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology Congress in Berlin.

According to lead researcher Assistant Professor Xenia Gonda, "Biochemical studies have shown that the season in which you are born has an influence on certain monoamine neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin, which is detectable even in adult life. This led us to believe that birth season may have a longer-lasting effect. Our work looked at over 400 subjects and matched their birth season to personality types in later life. Basically, it seems that when you are born may increase or decrease your chance of developing certain mood disorders."

October 17, 2014

Playing Action Video Games May Improve Sensorimotor Skills

People who play action video games seem to learn a new sensorimotor skill more quickly than non-gamers do, according to a new study by psychology researchers at the University of Toronto.

A new sensorimotor skill, such as riding a bike or typing, requires forming a new pattern of coordination between vision and motor movement. With such skills, an individual progresses from novice performance, characterized by a low degree of coordination, to expert performance, with a high degree of coordination. As a result of successful sensorimotor learning, a person can perform these tasks with greater efficiency and automaticity, or without consciously thinking about them.

The results of the study suggest that playing action games may enhance the ability to learn the dynamics of new sensorimotor tasks. This type of learning is valuable in performing laparoscopic surgery, for example, which involves high precision manual control of remote surgery tools through a computer interface.

October 15, 2014

Gecko Feet May Hold the Keys to More Agile Robots

An in depth study of how a gecko's feet work could lead to designs for robots that can maneuver on complex surfaces.
Underside of a gecko's foot,
Photo by Emily Kane, UC Riverside

To climb steep surfaces, geckos use an adhesive system in their toes. This evolutionary innovation is how they climb vertically both up and down. On the underside of their toes are structures called setae, millions of very fine hair-like structures, which increase the surface area and improve contact between the foot and the surface on which it rests.

This adhesive system works best when the gecko plants its weight along the long-axis of the toe, and with the natural curvature of the setae. That's great for going uphill, but exactly what adjustments do geckos make to go back down?

October 14, 2014

Crocodiles Are Surprisingly Sophisticated Hunters, Crowd-sourced Data Shows

New research from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville reveals that crocodiles are very sophisticated hunters. Crocodilians (crocodiles, alligators, caimans) have been observed using teamwork and even tools to catch their prey.

American crocodiles basking at a swamp in La Manzanilla, 
in the state of Jalisco, Mexico
Photo courtesy of Tomas Castelazo
Recently, other studies have found that crocodiles and their relatives are highly intelligent animals capable of sophisticated behavior such as advanced parental care, complex communication and use of sticks as tools for hunting. These versatile animals can also climb trees.

Now, Vladimir Dinets at UT's Department of Psychology has found that crocodiles work in teams to hunt their prey. During the study, crocodiles and alligators were observed conducting organized game drives. For example, a group of crocodiles would swim in a circle around a shoal of fish, gradually making the circle tighter until the fish were forced into a tight cluster known as a bait ball. Then the crocodiles would take turns cutting across the center of the circle, snatching the fish.

October 13, 2014

Fastest Computing Ever: Researchers Take One More Step Toward Putting it in Your Hands

Two research teams at the University of New South Wales have taken us a step closer to building super powerful quantum computers.

The teams have created two types of quantum bits, or qubits. Qubits are the building blocks for quantum computers. These qubits are not only super fast, but also super accurate, with each processing data with an accuracy above 99%. Menno Veldhorst of UNSW says, "It is really amazing that we can make such an accurate qubit using pretty much the same devices as we have in our laptops and phones."

"For quantum computing to become a reality we need to operate the bits with very low error rates," says Andrew Dzurak, Director of the Australian National Fabrication Facility at UNSW. "We've now come up with two parallel pathways for building a quantum computer in silicon, each of which shows this super accuracy," adds Andrea Morello from UNSW's School of Electrical Engineering and Telecommunications.

October 10, 2014

Stunning New Finds from Ancient Greek Shipwreck, Using Rebreather Technology

An international team of divers and archaeologists has retrieved amazing new finds from an ancient Greek ship that sank more than 2,000 years ago. Because of it's large size and luxury cargo, they are calling this ship the "Titanic of the ancient world."

Greek technical diver Alexandros Sotiriou discovers an intact 
ceramic table jug and a bronze rigging ring on the Antikythera 
Shipwreck.  (Brett Seymour, Return to Antikythera 2014)
The Antikythera wreck was first discovered in 1900 by sponge divers who were blown off course by a storm. They subsequently recovered a spectacular haul of ancient treasure including bronze and marble statues, jewelry, furniture, luxury glassware, and the surprisingly complex Antikythera Mechanism (an ancient analog computer). Their work at the 55-meter-deep site came to an end after one diver died of the bends and two were paralyzed. Ever since, archaeologists have wondered what remains buried beneath the sea bed.

October 9, 2014

New Hope for Amputees: Luke Skywalker's Prosthetic Hand is a Reality

Robotic arms and hands controlled by neuromuscular implants are now a clinical reality. These prosthetic limbs are giving amputees new opportunities in their personal and professional lives.
An early prosthetic hand prototype,
Photo courtesy University of Washington

Mind Control

In January 2013 a Swedish arm amputee was the first person in the world to receive a replacement arm that is surgically connected directly to his bone, nerves and muscles. He can control it with his brain.

"We have used osseointegration (anchoring the prosthetic to the bone) to create a long-term stable fusion between man and machine. The artificial arm is directly attached to the skeleton, thus providing mechanical stability. Then the human's biological control system, that is nerves and muscles, is also interfaced to the machine's control system via neuromuscular electrodes. This creates an intimate union between the body and the machine; between biology and mechatronics," says Max Ortiz Catalan, research scientist at Chalmers University of Technology and leading author of the paper that will be published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

October 8, 2014

How Dinosaurs Divided their Meals at the Jurassic Dinner Table

Sauropods were the largest land animals ever on earth, and many different species of them lived close together, so how did they all find enough food? New research from the University of Bristol and the Natural History Museum, London can now answer this question.
Mounted Apatosaurus at the Carnegie Museum
Photo by Tadek Kurpaski

Sauropods, large, long-necked plant-eating dinosaurs such as Diplodocus and Brachiosaurus, lived between 210 and 65 million years ago. The biggest weighed in at 80 tonnes (more than 11 elephants) and ate a lot of plants.

Despite their massive veggie appetites, multiple sauropod species often lived alongside each other. For example, remains of 10 different sauropod species have been found in the Late Jurassic Morrison Formation in the western United States.

October 7, 2014

Where did the red fox come from?

Researchers at University of California, Davis are studying the genome of the red fox, the world's most widely distributed land carnivore. Some surprising findings about the origins, journey and evolution of the red fox have come to light.

Sacramento Valley Red Fox
Photo courtesy of Ben Sacks/UC Davis
The new genetic research suggests that the first red foxes originated in the Middle East before beginning their journey of colonization across Eurasia to Siberia, across the Bering Strait and into North America.

Reproductively speaking, the red foxes of North America and Eurasia have been almost entirely isolated from one another for around 400,000 years. During this time, the North American red fox evolved into a new species distinct from its Old World ancestors.

Finding Human Ancestors at the Bottom of the Sea

Researchers are studying the remains of prehistoric human settlements that now lie submerged beneath Europe's coastal seas.

More than 2,500 groups of submerged prehistoric artifacts, ranging in age from 5,000 to 300,000 years, have been found in the coastal waters and open sea basins around Europe. Artifacts include hut foundations, hearths, food remains, skeletons, shaped flint tools, hand axes, and canoe paddles embedded in the sediment on the sea floor.

Periodically during the successive ice ages of the last million years, sea levels have dropped by up to 120 meters, adding up to 40 percent to the land area of Europe. Sea levels have risen again since then, so many artifacts of human prehistory are now underwater. Human ancestors inhabited the Black Sea coast 1.8 million years ago, the coast of northern Spain over a million years ago, and the coast of Britain at least 0.8 million years ago. The submerged archeological sites include some of the earliest routes from Africa into Europe as well as areas where early humans survived during multiple Ice Ages.

October 6, 2014

Are we using Facebook to boost our self-esteem?

When people are in a bad mood, they are more likely to head to social networking sites like Facebook in search of people who seem worse off than they are, a new study finds.

Image from the study courtesy of 
Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick and Benjamin Johnson
Researchers have found that people often use social media to connect with others who are posting positive and success-oriented updates. "But when people are in a negative mood, they start to show a lot more interest in the less attractive, less successful people on their social media sites," says Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick, co-author of the study and professor of communication at Ohio State University.

The Best Computer-Generated Face Ever

Computer graphics artist Chris Jones has created an amazingly realistic-looking head using the latest software. Watch the short video below. Will you forget that it is computer generated animation?

Jones is based in Australia. "Mr. Head," is being called the "most realistic human head simulation" by critics around the web.

According to Jones, the model is a work in progress. Also known as "Ed," it was made with Lightwave, Sculptris and Krita, and composited with Davinci Resolve Lite. Jones also created the music for the video.

EH Science would like to thank Chris Jones for permission to embed his awesome Mr. Head (Ed) video.

October 3, 2014

A Family Meal a Day May Keep Obesity Away

Adolescent obesity rates in the United States are rising quickly, and so is the likelihood that obesity will carry forward into adulthood. Researchers from the University of Minnesota and Columbia University report that family meals could reduce obesity.

On average, family meals tend to include more fruits, vegetables, calcium, and whole grains that quick food eaten on the go.

Jerica M. Berge and colleagues collected data from 2,287 people over 10 years in a study dubbed Project EAT (Eating and Activity among Teens) to examine weight-related variables. These variables included dietary intake, physical activity, and weight control behaviors among adolescents. "It is important to identify modifiable factors in the home environment, such as family meals, that can protect against overweight/obesity through the transition to adulthood," Dr. Berge says.

October 2, 2014

Cheaper Energy Could be Inspired by Giant Clams

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of California, Santa Barbara have found out how giant clams are operating as super-efficient, living greenhouses that grow symbiotic algae as food.
Iridescent Giant Clam, courtesy of Alison Sweeney

This discovery could have implications for alternative energy research, paving the way for new types of solar panels or improved reactors for growing biofuel.

"Many mollusks, like squid, octopuses, snails and cuttlefish have iridescent structures, but almost all use them for camouflage or for signaling to mates. We knew giant clams weren't doing either of those things, so we wanted to know what they were using them for," says Alison Sweeney of U. Penn.

Do sharks have personalities?

Do sharks have social personality traits? According to a new study, they do. Some sharks act more gregarious and have strong social connections. Others are more solitary and prefer to remain inconspicuous.

Small spotted catshark
Photo by Hans Hillewaert
A team from the University of Exeter and the Marine Biological Association of the UK (MBA) has been studying the behavior of spotted catsharks and have reported evidence of personalities. Personalities are known to exist in many animals, and are usually defined by individual characteristics such as how exploratory, bold or aggressive an individual is.

Darren Croft, of the Centre for Research into Animal Behavior at the University of Exeter, says, "We define personality as a repeatable behavior across time and contexts. What is interesting is that these behaviors differ consistently among individuals. This study shows, for the first time, that individual sharks possess social personalities."

October 1, 2014

What happens inside your brain when you use a tool?

Image courtesy of Marie-Louise Brandi/TUM
Scientists in Munich are examining the network in our brains that enables us to use tools.

Researchers from Technische Universit√§t M√ľnchen (TUM) and the Klinikum rechts der Isar hospital have analyzed the brain networks that control the use of tools and utensils, such as car keys and chopsticks. Using MRI scans, they watched the areas of the brain that activate when a person first thinks about using a tool and then actually picks it up and uses it.

After giving people some everyday items to use, including a hammer, a bottle-opener, a key, a lighter, scissors, and some unfamiliar objects, researchers used MRI scans to watch their brains in action.

Improving Babies' Language Skills Before They're Even Old Enough to Speak

Rutgers University--In the first months of life, when babies begin to distinguish sounds that make up language from all the other sounds in the world, they can be trained to more effectively recognize which sounds "might" be language, accelerating the development of the brain maps which are critical to language acquisition and processing.
April Benasich of Rutgers University-Newark says 4 to 7 months
is an ideal age to enhance a baby's listening skills.
Image courtesy of Benasich Lab

Researchers found that when 4-month-old babies learned to pay attention to increasingly complex non-language audio patterns and were rewarded for correctly shifting their eyes to a video when the sound changed slightly, their brain scans at 7 months old showed they were faster and more accurate at detecting other sounds important to language than babies who had not been exposed to the sound patterns.