We're a little crazy, about science!

Archive for June, 2014

Noninvasive Brain Control via Jaws!



Mind control, we’ve seen several semi [see very] invasive ways to make it happen here from the Labs. Now those crazy scientists from MIT  have developed a technique that allows researchers to enable neurons to be silenced noninvasively, using a light source outside the skull. All using a protein known as Jaws.

Optogenetics [a technology that allows scientists to control brain activity by shining light on neurons] uses light-sensitive proteins that can suppress or stimulate electrical signals within cells. This technique is very invasive though because it requires a light source to be implanted in the brain, where it can reach the cells to be controlled.


A Startling New Climate Change Revelation!

climate change

Call out the troops, call the Marines, we need tanks, lots of tanks. Well okay, maybe not. Brute force won’t stop global warming and thanks to a new study on the subject it turns out, not much else will either. Oh there is of course the obvious lower CO2 emissions, but that’s not a big deal. I don’t know why it takes scientific studies to tell us this, but the greenhouse gas CO2 that we pump out in millions of  tons — roughly 88 million tons, US of course since metric tonnes has to be different, or maybe that’s our fault — is bad for the environment.

I know we tend to think of ourselves as intelligent and generally I won’t argue otherwise, but let me just say… really?


Tofu and Solar Cells: An unlikely pairing


Solar cells, they’re kind of a big deal. Good for the environment, produce power from that big ball of burning gas we call our sun, they like long walks on the beach, cool drinks and just chilling with friends… oh sorry that’s from the wife swap [the wife and I love that show]. But in all seriousness, solar is the next oil. We had an industrial revolution and now we are going to have a more eco-friendly kind of revolution. Of course the high price of solar panels has made it all but inaccessible to the general public [I know I would love to have some on my roof!]. With natural gas and other sources of power being cheaper, solar needs to learn a few new tricks to keep up. Thankfully that is exactly what scientists at the University of Liverpool have accomplished.

Right now solar cells are inefficient at about 15% of the power actually converted to usable electricity. It is unfortunate then that solar cells need to be coated in a cadmium chloride to reach that paltry efficiency. I’ll let you in on a little secret, if it wasn’t for that coating we would only see about a 2% power conversion. Yeah damned if you do damned if you don’t stuff. That’s because that coating is roughly $0.30 a gram, doesn’t sound like much, but it adds up quick. Not to mention that there is a little problem with it being very toxic, incredibly hard to handle safely and hard to dispose of after solar cell decommission [I know… details, details].


Finally, a Better Battery!

That's the million dollar question.

That’s the million dollar question.

You know what technology hasn’t been able to keep pace with us? Well besides whatever tech the DMV uses, it’s batteries. Think about it, they are nasty, make a mess, are hazzardous, hard to recycle and weigh a freaking ton compared to the energy stored. Current battery technology is my number one problem with electric cars as it stands now. Between the weight, the resources, and the waste, electric cars are almost a wash. Not quite mind you, but almost.

That’s about to change, maybe not for the electric car, but for the energy grid. Right now power is pumped out as fast as it’s being used. There is no real storage anywhere for surplus power so it is made on demand for people to use it as it’s being produced. This use as you make it system has proven to be the bane of solar and wind, the two major renewable energy technologies we have. This problem combined with the lobbyists for oil and gas companies and you can see why we don’t have more solar or wind power plants.


Anti-aging drug has a Catch… but not for Long


Dietary restriction holds the key to longevity. It’s no secret that as you drastically reduce calories, your metabolism will slow down with it [ask anyone who’s tried to crash diet about that one]. Science has been trying to crack that egg for awhile now and because of that, it is the most researched method for slowing down the aging process. That was why researchers were so excited to find that a drug — rapamycin — appears to mimic that anti-aging effect.

Rapamycin, an antibiotic and immunosuppressant approved for medical use about 15 years ago, has drawn extensive interest for its apparent ability — at least in laboratory animal tests — to emulate the ability of dietary restriction in helping animals to live both longer and healthier. If the name sounds familiar that is because rapamycin is primarily used as an immunosuppressant — to help prevent rejection — specifically for people who have had organ transplants.


Autism and Pesticides: What, too obvious?

Autism children

There have been a few different things linked to children who fall under the Autism Spectrum Disorder. A combination of genetic and environmental factors, along with complications during pregnancy have been associated with the diagnoses. And a new study aims to strengthen the link between prenatal exposure to pesticides and autism [Please hold your collective duh’s until the end]. The large, multi-site California-based study examined associations between specific classes of pesticides, including organophosphates, pyrethroids and carbamates, applied during the study participants’ pregnancies and later diagnoses of autism and developmental delay in their offspring.


To Lose the Weight, Feel the… freezer burn?


Are you so fat you can’t see your toes? Have you forgotten what toes even look like? Have you been mistaken for the infamous “Kool-aid man”? Want to shed the pounds easier than taking off your shirt? Well too bad, that is science fiction and the stuff of horrid marketing ploys and this my friends is a science website. Losing weight is hard, I’ve written several articles on it in fact. Nothing is going to be more effective at weight loss than a sensible diet, a calorie deficit and maybe some insoluble fiber that I mentioned in the very first article I’ve written.

A new companion study to this post, which I wrote not long ago not only confirms that original studies findings, but also gives insight into another factor for the mounting obesity epidemic.


The Love Song of Philo T. Farnsworth

Philo Farnsworth, if the name sounds vaguely familiar than you might just be a Futurama watcher. If you don’t watch and know who I’m talking about or even better are a fan then, “YAY!” and for those of you who don’t know, don’t sweat it you’re not alone. One of the forgotten greats, Farnsworth should be a household name, namely because one of his biggest inventions is in practically every home.

Did you guess it yet? If you said Television, then you are correct!! [If you didn’t, but wish you had, then good enough!] Philo Farnsworth wasn’t necessarily a genius, he didn’t escape the holocaust like Einstein, nor did he make millions from his inventions like you might expect. In fact, Farnsworth lead– by all accounts — a fairly unassuming life. Interesting when find out that not only did he invent the modern television, but he did it at the ripe old age of 14 years old. No, not 41 that wasn’t a mistype, he was 14 years old.


Global Warming doesn’t actually benefit Plants

Global warming signs

Things are heating up. It’s no secret that the mercury is rising and we are to blame. Sure, there is a lot of uncertainty, for example how long we have until we simply cannot reverse global warming, or worse, how long we have before we cannot survive on the planet. That would be a good question to answer; maybe it will get the people who can actually do something to fix it, to make a change.

The planet works in sometimes-unforeseen ways, sometimes that is good and sometimes that is bad. The hope was that global warming might be offset – if only for a short time – by the increased energy in the system [meaning longer warm periods], which would increase the growing season. It is unfortunate then, that this turns out not to be the case.


Haters gonna… hate?

Haters gonna hate, unless you’ve been hiding under a rock since the internet has been born you’ve probably heard this phrase. Well now there is a new study that shows all that time spent hating, might mean less work doing.

The study, published in the journal Social Psychology might sound like more of a joke than actual science, but it is, in fact very real. Previous research done by the team have already shown that haters [and likers] are predisposed to be that way. Assuming that our disposition motivates behavior, the team suggested that people who like many things (those with positive dispositional attitudes) also do many things during the course of a week, while people who dislike many things (those with low dispositional attitudes) do very few things with their time.


Warning: Serious Side Effects may be Overstated


Black box warnings, I’m all too familiar with them. A quick look in the medicine cabinet and you would see why. In fact I’m surprised the door shuts some days. No, I’m not a druggy, by any means. I have problems and frankly who doesn’t? These days, like millions of Americans I find some sort of comfort in pill form. It’s not perfect, but most days you wouldn’t know I had my own problems. It’s unfortunate then that the black box warning labels we see on just about every type of antidepressant may be doing more harm than good.


New and Exciting discoveries about Autism


Vaccines don’t cause autism. One more time, all together now, vaccines do not cause autism. Thankfully science understands that and is moving in on the actual cause for it. A combination of new studies not only shows a link between a particular gene and autistic disabilities [since it’s an autistic spectrum], but the second study offers a potential new pathway for treatment of the disorders.

Autistic-like behaviors and decreased cognitive ability may be associated with the disruption of a particular gene, in this case the APC gene [Adenomatous Polyposis Coli]. The connection was made when Tufts researchers deleted the gene from select neurons in the developing mouse brain. The mice developed all the autistic characteristics, such as reduced social behavior, increased repetitive behavior, and impaired learning and memory formation. This study is the first to look at how the loss of APC from nerve cells in the forebrain affects brain development, learning, and behavior.


Quantum Conundrum, Puzzling People, and Survey Statistics

Order matters, we all know this when it comes to math, but did you know the order of questions asked can affect how you answer them? It’s true and it isn’t new news, the question-order effect is why survey organizations normally change the order of questions between different respondents, hoping to cancel out this bias. But that isn’t the interesting part, not by a long shot.

It turns out that quantum theory is a much better predictor of the survey results than conventional methods of predictions.


Does the Bionic Man dream of an Electric Pancreas?


Diabetes can be torture; between the pokes and pins, the special diet, and constant monitoring, diabetes can be a special brand of hell [which is right next to the people who talk in movies]. Insulin pumps can help ease that pain, but science has introduced a piece of technology that would make the bionic man proud.


Lab Made Flu Coming to a Outbreak Near You!

Spanish Flu outbreak of 1918

Spanish Flu outbreak of 1918

Forgive the alarmist title, I had to do it. Researchers have created a genetically engineered version of the flu, similar to the spanish flu that killed roughly 50 million people in 1918. Don’t worry, it’s not as bad as it sounds, that is until someone sneezes and drops the vial… but what are the odds that would… umm… happen.

Truthfully there is already a war coming. If anyone remembers the swine flu outbreak a few years back, you know what I am talking about — for those of you who had it, including yours truly, you know how horrible it can be. Swine flu or H1N1 was a supercharged flu that was 95% or so genetically different from the flu we have typically seen. This lead to all sorts of fun and horrid complications from the outbreak due to the fact it was something the body had never really seen before.


Lies the Labels Told Me: Beware Food Buzzwords

organic natural

Organic, All natural, and packed full of antioxidants; sounds healthy, doesn’t it? Unsurprisingly however, if something is trying to tout how healthy it is, it probably isn’t. Of course all those buzzwords have to mean something… don’t they?

According to a new research study conducted by scholars at the University of Houston, health-related buzzwords, such as “antioxidant,” “gluten-free” and “whole grain,” lull consumers into thinking packaged food products labeled with those words are healthier than they actually are.


New Obesity drugs: Coming Soon to a Store Near You!

Afraid to go into public because you think those double doors might be a little narrow for you? Are you pretty sure you have feet, even though you haven’t seen them for awhile now? Did you recently find something you think may have been a twinkie at one point in your folds? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then science might be able to help.

Believe it or not weight gain is complex –or at least the biological aspect of it– for example hormones control our appetite and even the uptake of food. In recent years, science has taken on the seemingly insurmountable quest of investigating these physiological functions and finding a medical way to fight the ever growing obesity epidemic.


Alcohol Abuse and Combat in the Military


It’s no secret, I’m a proud Marine and combat veteran. So while searching for the latest and greatest science to write about I was surprised to come across a study on combat and alcohol abuse. Thinking I already knew the answer I almost didn’t bother to read it — when I did, the results were a little surprising and I wanted to share them.


[Creepy] Plasmids and Antibiotic Resistance


If the title didn’t give it away, plasmids are creepy. For those of you who are confused by that statement let’s cover what a plasmid is exactly. Plasmids are very short circular pieces of DNA that are like little virus’. What makes the little buggers creepy is that they aren’t technically living, but possess all the qualities that would make you think otherwise.


New Genetic Clues to Autism


There is a long, controversial life to autism. Autism comes from the greek autos, meaning self. The term describes conditions which a person is removed from interaction — hence, an isolated self.

It was first described by a guy named Eugen Bleuler, a swiss psychologist who noticed the symptoms in a schizophrenic patient. Technically Autism is a particular diagnosis in the Autistic Spectrum which includes things like Asperger syndrome, there is even something called savant syndrome in which children display amazing abilities in a particular field [typically math or music] with no real training.


Weight Loss Science Fact: Odd but True


Okay boys and girls, time to grab those love handles and hold on tight, because it’s another round of weight loss science fact. With a little luck [and a little reading] you won’t be holding them for long. With that let’s just jump right in, for those who are not in “the know” there are two types of fat: white adipose tissue and brown adipose tissue. The normal person’s body will preferentially choose white adipose tissue over brown. I’ll let you guess which one is the better of the two.


The Surprisingly Magnetic Black Hole


Black holes suck. Nothing can escape a black hole, not even light, which is why they are “black”. They are also an interesting bit of physics. Normally “classical” physics applies to things that are large enough to see [and even things that you can’t in some cases]. Conversely quantum mechanics deals with the “unseen”, atoms and their interactions. That is normally the end of the story, never shall the two meet.

In fact, because there is no clearly defined line between the quantum and the classical, there has been trouble blending the two theories. Which is unfortunate in that there are a few specific examples where the quantum world and the classical world collide, one of them just happens to be black holes.


Climate Engineering: We can’t Build it Better after all

View from the international space station

View from the international space station

We have the technology: we can rebuild you, better, stronger, faster. Well we may have been able to build the six million dollar man better than before, but as it turns out, we can’t do the same for the environment.

For anyone actually listening to science [and I really hope you all are] it isn’t getting any cooler. Thanks to the rising CO2 levels in the world it’s only going to get hotter and with it, the weather more extreme. Yet some people out there — and unfortunately for us, the people with the power to actually make a change– simply don’t care. To them, even if it gets hotter, we can fix it. After all we have the technology.


Will genetically engineer bacteria for Biofuel


This is pretty much how biofuel technology is being funded right now…

Utter the word biofuel in the wrong circles and someone is likely to be stabbed. Let’s just say that the topic can be polarizing, but for good reason. Biofuel offers a [potentially] carbon neutral and sustainable way to wean ourselves off our oil addiction. At the same time, the hurdles in the cost of production coupled with the technological problems have all but stalled the biofuel fantasy [can you see why someone may get stabbed yet?].

Well there is good news, while we are waiting for our solar roadways and other [much better] alternatives to just a carbon neutral solution, we can at the very least, move away from oil. This all thanks to a new breakthrough that will allow a carbon neutral biofuel to be produced cheaply.


Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind?

eternal sunshine

A frame from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. What if it was more than just a movie…

Much like this posts namesake, the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind asked what if you could erase memories? Want to forget your ex, no problem. Better yet, what PTSD? I’m sure that all of us can think of at least one or two things — be it embarrassing, or scary — that we would like to forget.

Or conversely, maybe there is something forgotten, something you would give anything to remember — like a loved one or a relative — locked away deep in your brain. Thanks to new advancements in neuroscience, it’s technology that is not just in the movies anymore.


In Science We Trust

in science we trust

Sure, I could do a poll right now, how many of you are science fans? I figure if you are reading my blog then the answer is most [if not all] of you are. Unfortunately, that result isn’t the norm. Whether you blame it on lack of education, or just simply because it is “cool” to be ignorant; science is most definitely not as mainstream as it could be.

Why do more people know about the latest celebrity gossip, than the latest scientific advancements is beyond me. Sometimes it feels like pseudoscience has more of a following than actual science. Frustrating when I see my insurance covers things like acupuncture –which does not work– but not root canals — which do, in fact, serve a purpose.