Archive for February 2010


Comments Off Posted on Sunday 28 February 2010 at 4:36 pm by Jacob Aron
In Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Weekly Roundup

My blogging schedule is all over the place at the moment, but I still have time to bring you some neat things from the world of science:

Chemical party

Chemical reactions can get pretty wild, but I bet you’ve never seen them like this:

Strength in small numbers

Check out this amazing picture of an ant lifting 100 times its body weight – that’s like me hoisting 5 cars at the same time!

This photo won Dr Thomas Endlein of the University of Cambridge Zoology Department first prize in the Biotechnology And Biological Sciences Research Council science photo competition. You can see the other winners on the BBSRC site.

Well, it works for monkeys…

Did you know that learning to climb trees has much in common with the scientific method? This quaint short film explains it all – love the use of Wikipedia as “a source of reliable information”!

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1 Comment » Posted on Tuesday 23 February 2010 at 4:05 pm by Jacob Aron
In Inventions & Technology, Musings

In a crossover of my two main interests, I’ve written an article about science and video games:

Video games have always been children of science. The earliest games were written on punch cards in university laboratories and played on enormous computer mainframes only available to researchers. Now the entire video game industry is dependent on technological breakthroughs brought about by unfaltering scientific progress. But what have video games given science in return?

Take the world’s most famous video game scientist, Dr. Gordon Freeman. Despite holding a Ph.D. in theoretical physics, he’s no more a scientist than Mario is a plumber; as the silent protagonist of a first-person shooter, Freeman is essentially just a gun on a stick. His Half-Life colleagues don’t win any Nobel Prizes for personality, either. The game’s late-’90s graphical limitations meant its scientists are based on only four different character models, all wearing an identical uniform of a lab coat and tie.

Read the rest at The Escapist.

Comments Off Posted on Sunday 14 February 2010 at 9:10 pm by Jacob Aron
In Mathematics, Psychology, Weekly Roundup

Valentine’s love poetry brings a hot rush of blood to the cheeks

I wrote this piece for the Guardian as part of their Valentine’s Day coverage:

Steamy love poems are always popular around Valentine’s Day, but can a few lines of tender verse really make people hot under the collar? Researchers at Aberystwyth University attempted to find out earlier this week, using thermal imaging cameras to take the temperature of volunteers reading the work of Romantic poets.

The experiment is a collaboration between the arts and the sciences, led by poet Richard Marggraf Turley from the Department of English and Creative Writing and Reyer Zwiggelaar from Computer Science. They asked six volunteers from each department to silently read 12 love poems, while a slightly less amorous text about thermal imaging served as a control. As the participants pored over poems, including Bright Star by John Keats and To His Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvell (both are reproduced in full below), thermal cameras monitored their faces for any change in temperature that could reveal their true feelings.

Read the rest at the Guardian.

A “new” formula for marriage? Not quite

A number of news outlets have run stories on a formula for finding your “Optimal Proposal Age”, based on a press release from the University of New South Wales. Far from being a new result, it’s actually a repackaging of an old mathematical puzzle known by a variety of names, including the marriage problem.

Imagine you’ve decided to search for the perfect partner by going on 100 blind dates. After each date you decide whether you want to marry the potential suitor, and if you choose not too you can never see them again. Contrived, but then this is a maths puzzle!

How do you pick your partner? If you wait until the end of all 100 dates, you’ll be stuck with whoever is on the end of the list, whether you like them or not, but if just go for the first person you like then you could be missing out on someone who is a better match. It turns out that the best strategy is to see the first 37 potentials, then pick the next one who is better than those 37. Not the most romantic approach, but at least it makes for a quirky Valentine’s Day news story I suppose.

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Comments Off Posted on Thursday 11 February 2010 at 9:38 pm by Jacob Aron
In Inventions & Technology

A new material could form both the battery and the body of next generation electric vehicles, say scientists at Imperial College. The composite is strong enough to be used as a bonnet or a door, while also storing and discharging electricity to power the wheels.

Current electric cars are limited to a range of a few hundred miles before they need recharging, as the heavy batteries must be small enough to keep the vehicle’s weight down. The new material could increase a car’s range without making it heavier, allowing them to be used on cross-country trips rather than being constrained to urban use.

It would also reduce the need for internal wiring, as electronic gadgets such as built-in sat nav could be powered directly from the bodywork, and may eventually find use in other electronics, according to project leader Dr Emile Greenhalgh:

“You might have a mobile phone that is as thin as a credit card because it no longer needs a bulky battery, or a laptop that can draw energy from its casing so it can run for a longer time without recharging.

“We’re at the first stage of this project and there is a long way to go, but we think our composite material shows real promise.”

The composite is made of carbon and glass fibers embedded in a polymer resin. The energy storing process isn’t reliant on chemicals, so works faster than a normal battery and is slower to degrade.

The team at Imperial are working with Volvo to try out the new technology. The first prototype will replace part of the boot where the spare tire is stored, known as the wheel well, with a piece made from the advanced material. Volvo say this could reduce the weight of their cars by up to 15%.

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