December 6, 2011

ZOMG Science! November Roundup

The ‘staches have been shaven. The chocolate calendars have been broken out. This just means one thing: Santa’s com-… oh right,  ZOMG Science! November installment! Woot! *high five*

Chew Gum. Be Smart!

Exams season is upon us. And thanks to our friendly, neighbourhood scientists, we may be able to get that much needed brain boost. Psychologists from St. Lawrence University in New York have been investigating the effects of gum chewing on mental performance and the associated timing. One hundred and fifty-nine students were asked to perform a battery of demanding mental tasks, including solving difficult logic puzzles. Half of these participants were randomly assigned to chew gum while the other half acted as the control. Fascinatingly, it was found that the gum-chewers significantly outperformed the controls on five out of the six tests! This advantage, however, was not long-lived. Unfortunately, after the first twenty minutes of testing, the performance of the gum-chewers returned to the same level as the control group.

Gum chewers outperform non-gum chewers.

Moral of the story? Chew gum and write fast!

One Giant Leap for Cyborg Kind

The computer chip that emulates the human brain.

You know how in all those science fiction movies, the robots and machines eventually learn how to, well, learn. They become capable of adapting to situations and developing real emotions and all that. Or how humans aren’t really humans anymore because they are decked out with crazy computer tech. Well, this technological development is pretty much the start to all of that. Researcher scientists in the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology have developed a new type of computer chip that can emulate the activity of the connections in the brain. Rather than merely capturing spikes of action potentials (similar to an on/off switch), these analog silicon chips are capable of mimicking the ion-channel that lead up to the spikes. The applications for this technology is limitless. Not only will it enable scientists to further their understanding of the human mind, it could also have a vital role in disease research and treatment or even brain-machine interfaces (like the one I talked about last month). This may even allow us to replace parts of damaged brains or enhance part of the brain system beyond normal capacity or build real AI devices. So, who wants to be a cyborg?


Build muscles like the Incredible Hulk…if you are a mouse.

Do you ever wish that you didn’t have to spend hours upon hours everyday physically torturing yourself to get that ripped, photoshop-esque body? That you could do the bare minimum exercise but still be faster, stronger and better looking? Well, if you were a mouse (or a worm), researchers have found a solution for you! Scientists at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland and the Saulk Institute in California can now manipulate the genetic inhibitor responsible for preventing the build-up of muscle.  By inhibiting the inhibitor, the test mice were able to develop muscle tissue more efficiently, enabling them to run faster and longer than non-Hulk’d mice. The muscle tissue was denser and contained more mitochondria (the powerhouse of the cells). Although the scientists have yet to find an analogous gene in humans and manipulating genes in humans isn’t a very good idea, I’m still optimistic on behalf of us lazy ones. Let’s just hope the future Hulk drug won’t actually make you green and perpetually PMS-y.

Powered by Pee

Electrically generated from pee.

Did you know that roughly 6.4 trillion litres of pee is produced worldwide each year?!?  And that most of that goes to waste (I don’t think Bear Grylls can drink that much). Well soon that may all change! Researchers from the University of the West of England in Bristol have been working on a way to efficiently harness the liquid’s powers in a microbial fuel cell. They have found that the chemicals composing urine can be used effectively in the cathode half of the fuel cell, reacting with bacteria in the anode side to produce electricity. The team is currently working on a prototype system that could power houses and businesses. Additionally, they promise that the fuel cells will also clean the urine so that it can be safely discharged into the environment and therefore removing the need for expensive and energy-consuming wastewater treatment plants. The impact would be huge! But I suppose the real question is: would that impact really help us get over the icky, gross-ness factor?

Terminator Vision Enhancement

Head-up display

Head-up displays are some of the coolest things out there. The transparent display presents you with data and information without requiring you to look away from your viewpoint. Like Tony Stark in the Iron Man armour. Well, courtesy of the research scientists in the University of Washington in Washington State and Aalto University in Finland, we may soon get our own HUDs… IN OUR EYES!! Terminator-style! They have been testing a prototype of a contact lens display equipped with a single LED. These lenses utilize power emitted by an external device and an integrated energy storage circuit to provide power for the single pixel LED. The researchers aim to increase resolution to include a multitude of pixels capable of displaying numbers or texts. I can’t wait to be able to use this tech. Imagine, walking around and seeing this (minus the redness, of course):

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Recultured Team
Recultured Team
This is where you'll find the blog posts that the team has contributed to collectively! What team? Wildcats! -Nope, wrong team. Recultured!

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