Peanut Butter Diamonds, Air-Conditioned Shirts and On-Demand Amnesia

Tiffany's? More like Jif-any's!: Researchers at Edinburgh University have created a way to make diamonds out of most carbon-based materials, including peanut butter. They create an oddly-named "stiletto heel effect" by squeezing material between the tips of two diamonds, creating pressure greater than at the center of the earth. Besides making diamonds out of sandwich dressings, the scientists also say they could turn oxygen into red crystals. Kind of makes me wish I had held out for more than a cupcake when trading away my peanut butter sandwiches in the lunch room.

Forgive and Forget: The next time you want to forget something, you won't need a bottle of tequila. Scientists at McGill University in Montreal and at Harvard have devised a method to erase or manipulate memories. By injecting a drug known to cause memory problems while a patient is recalling a specific memory, the scientists were able to disrupt the biochemical pathways that make the memory permanent. The scientists say it has already helped lessen the symptoms in victims of PTSD. As of yet, it doesn't appear to have been used Charlie Kaufman style, but there's still time.


One Mammoth Discovery: In another case of life imitating awesome science-fiction movies, National Geographic reports that researchers are close to piecing together the genomes for extinct species like Neanderthals or mammoths. Once the genome is completed, many think that we could be close to reviving the ancient species. It's a matter of getting the DNA from these species, whether it's from fossils or frozen bodies. It makes me wonder if resurrected Neanderthals will be anything like those GEICO cavemen.
teeth.jpgBuilding a better mouth-trap: Dental materials can be hard to test, since long-term teeth models work quickly and hardly mimic the real human mouth. But researchers in England are working on a better dental robot. The device, known as Dento-Munch, can rotate on three axes, better showing the versatility of the mouth to test the effects on long-term wear on dental products. I'm sure its only a matter of time before Wrigley's gets their hands on it to develop a longer-lasting chewing gum.

Give 'em a Hand: More artificial body parts: A Japanese firm last week unveiled an artificial hand with a more sensitive touch. The prototype weighs only 14 ounces (about three ounces less than a human hand) and uses air pressure to control the movements of the fingers. The hand is so delicate that it can pick up a pen and a raw egg without breaking it, a big step up from the heavier models.

acshirt.jpgIt's like Sleeping on Air (Conditioning): In my dorm room, I had to struggle to coordinate three fans around the room to maximize the air cooling me while I slept. If only I had had Kuchofuku's new air conditioned bed. The bed uses two fans to circulate air under you while you sleep, creating an air conditioning system. As if that weren't enough, they're also selling a shirt that uses similar technology, so you can feel cool at the office. I'm sure its comfortable, but the giant fan on the side doesn't exactly scream high fashion.

Heard it through the Grapevine: We've all heard of the supposed "Mozart Effect," but who new it worked at vineyards? One researcher has applied that logic to plants, and found that classical music helps grapevines grow. The full results aren't in, but leaf area and growth were improved in plants exposed to music. The tests were all conducted in Tuscany on vines that produce Chianti, making this the swankiest research project I've ever heard of.

The Surprising Link Between Language and Depression

Skim through the poems of Sylvia Plath, the lyrics of Kurt Cobain, or posts on an internet forum dedicated to depression, and you'll probably start to see some commonalities. That's because there's a particular way that people with clinical depression communicate, whether they're speaking or writing, and psychologists believe they now understand the link between the two.

According to a recent study published in Clinical Psychological Science, there are certain "markers" in a person's parlance that may point to symptoms of clinical depression. Researchers used automated text analysis methods to comb through large quantities of posts in 63 internet forums with more than 6400 members, searching for certain words and phrases. They also noted average sentence length, grammatical patterns, and other factors.

What researchers found was that a person's use (or overuse) of first-person pronouns can provide some insight into the state of their mental health. People with clinical depression tend to use more first-person singular pronouns, such as "I" and "me," and fewer third-person pronouns, like "they," "he," or "she." As Mohammed Al-Mosaiwi, a Ph.D. candidate in psychology at the University of Reading and the head of the study, writes in a post for IFL Science:

"This pattern of pronoun use suggests people with depression are more focused on themselves, and less connected with others. Researchers have reported that pronouns are actually more reliable in identifying depression than negative emotion words."

What remains unclear, though, is whether people who are more focused on themselves tend to depression, or if depression turns a person's focus on themselves. Perhaps unsurprisingly, people with depression also use more negative descriptors, like "lonely" and "miserable."

But, Al-Mosaiwi notes, it's hardly the most important clue when using language to assess clinical depression. Far better indicators, he says, are the presence of "absolutist words" in a person's speech or writing, such as "always," "constantly," and "completely." When overused, they tend to indicate that someone has a "black-and-white view of the world," Al-Mosaiwi says. An analysis of posts on different internet forums found that absolutist words were 50 percent more prevalent on anxiety and depression forums, and 80 percent more prevalent on suicidal ideation forums.

Researchers hope these types of classifications, supported by computerized methods, will prove more and more beneficial in a clinical setting.

[h/t IFL Science]

Pop Culture
The ‘Scully Effect’ Is Real: Female X-Files Fans More Likely to Go Into STEM

FBI agent Dana Scully is more than just a role model for remaining professional when a colleague won't stop talking about his vast governmental conspiracy theories. The skeptical doctor played by Gillian Anderson on The X-Files helped inspire women to go into STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) careers, according to a new report [PDF] from the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, which we spotted at Fast Company.

“In the world of entertainment media, where scientists are often portrayed as white men wearing white coats and working alone in labs, Scully stood out in the 1990s as the only female STEM character in a prominent, prime-time television role,” the report explains. Previously, anecdotal evidence has pointed to the existence of a “Scully effect,” in which the measured TV scientist—with her detailed note-taking, evidence-based approach, and desire to autopsy everything—inspired women to seek out their own science careers. This report provides the hard data.

The Geena Davis Institute surveyed more than 2000 women in the U.S. above the age of 25, a significant portion of whom were viewers of The X-Files (68 percent) and women who had studied for or were in STEM careers (49 percent). While the survey didn’t ask women whether watching Dana Scully on The X-Files directly influenced their decision to be a scientist, the results hint that seeing a character like her on TV regularly did affect them. Women who watched more of the show were more likely to say they were interested in STEM, more likely to have studied a STEM field in college, and more likely to have worked in a STEM field after college.

While it’s hard to draw a direct line of causation there—women who are interested in science might just be more inclined to watch a sci-fi show like The X-Files than women who grow up to be historians—viewers also tended to say Scully gave them positive impressions of women in science. More than half of respondents who were familiar with Scully’s character said she increased their confidence in succeeding in a male-dominated profession. More than 60 percent of the respondents said she increased their belief in the importance of STEM. And when asked to describe her, they were most likely to say she was “smart” and “intelligent” before any other adjective.

STEM fields are still overwhelmingly male, and governments, nonprofits, schools, activists, and some tech companies have been pushing to make the field more diverse by recruiting and retaining more female talent. While the desire to become a doctor or an engineer isn’t the only thing keeping STEM a boy’s club, women also need more role models in the fields whose success and accomplishments they can look up to. Even if some of those role models are fictional.

Now that The X-Files has returned to Fox, perhaps Dana Scully will have an opportunity to shepherd a whole new generation of women into the sciences.

[h/t Fast Company]


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