The Priceless Potty, the Jiffy Boob Job and the Squid/Octopus Hybrid

The $19 million toilet

ISS_Toilet_2.jpgOkay, we never really expect the government to be too fiscally responsible, but it's still hard to fathom this. NASA announced last week that they're shelling out $19 million to buy a Russian toilet system to use in space. And that was a bargain. They explain that a toilet in space is like a water treatment plant on earth, so they saved big by buying the Russian model instead of building their own. The toilet, to be installed on the American side of the International Space Station, will look your standard airplane lavatory, except for the leg straps and thigh bar (see right). Plus, it's got the ability to transfer urine to a device that purifies drinking water. Even though the toilet does sound high-tech, it's sobering to think that for the same price NASA could have bought Curt Schilling and the cast of Friends.

Perfecting the Brewski

In a classic case of potential over-analyzation, researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have revealed a procedure to use ultrasound equipment to test the quality of a fermented beverage. By strapping sensors to the outside of a container, they can bounce sound waves off of the particles in the brew to check for hung fermentation or bacteria. They haven't announced plans to market the equipment yet, but if it's available commercially, frat boys won't be able to get away with watering down their kegs anymore.

Even Rats Have a Golden Rule

Turns out calling someone a rat isn't as much of an insult as we always thought. Scientists showed that rats are actually pretty nice, especially when shown kindness. The rats were trained to pull a lever that fed food pellets to other rats. In turn, the rats receiving the food were more likely to pull the giving lever for other rats. Scientists are puzzled since this seems to run counter to evolutionary theory, but really it just shows that rats believe in karma as much as we do.

Tongue controlled wheelchairs, Really good vibrations and the Amazing Octosquid all after the jump!

The Tongue-Controlled Wheelchair:

KISS---Gene-Simmons--C11751295.jpegAdmit it: As an inexperienced prepubescent, you once practiced French kissing by yourself. Little did you know, that may have been practice for the future of transportation. The American company Think-a-Move has announced their development of an earplug that can detect movements of the tongue to control a wheelchair or computer. The movement in the tongue sends air through the Eustachian tube, which leads to the ear. Tests showed that the device has a 97 percent success rate with the commands for up, down, left and right. In addition to helping quadraplegics, the company says the device could be useful for soldiers and rescue workers. And Gene Simmons will just get a kick out of it.

The Amazing Octosquid

While cleaning the filters at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority water pipelines, scientists found a creature with the eight legs, the head of an octopus and the mantle of a squid. What to call this apparent hybrid-from-the-deep? Why, octosquid, of course! The specimen was about a foot long and doesn't appear to be of a known species. Octosquid is the temporary name until scientists can identify it further.

Pickin' up good vibrations

_42465828_power-sbeeby203.jpgScientists in Britain have developed a tiny generator that picks up its power from vibrations in its surroundings. They say the unique power system could be use in places where batteries are difficult to replace such as, say, a human heart. There are plans to use the device to power pacemakers since the vibrations from a beating heart would be enough to keep the generator going. I think if they could make the generator a little bigger, rock concerts might be able to power themselves.

Bigger Breasts in Just an Hour

From the land of 8-minute abs and 30-minute meals comes the 1-hour boob job. A California biotech company has announced a process, known as Celution, that takes just over an hour to enhance a patient's breasts. Using a minor liposuction, they draw fat from either the stomach or buttocks, then quickly remove the useful stem cells and inject the cells back into the patient's breasts, which gradually expand over six months. Sounds like becoming a pop star just became easier- you can process your headshots, burn a sample CD and get a bigger bra-size all in one afternoon.

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Medicine
Charles Dickens Museum Highlights the Author's Contributions to Science and Medicine

Charles Dickens is celebrated for his verbose prose and memorable opening lines, but lesser known are his contributions to science—particularly the field of medicine.

A new exhibition at London’s Charles Dickens Museum—titled "Charles Dickens: Man of Science"—is showcasing the English author’s scientific side. In several instances, the writer's detailed descriptions of medical conditions predated and sometimes even inspired the discovery of several diseases, The Guardian reports.

In his novel Dombey and Son, the character of Mrs. Skewton was paralyzed on her right side and unable to speak. Dickens was the first person to document this inexplicable condition, and a scientist later discovered that one side of the brain was largely responsible for speech production. "Fat boy" Joe, a character in The Pickwick Papers who snored loudly while sleeping, later lent his namesake to Pickwickian Syndrome, otherwise known as obesity hypoventilation syndrome.

A figurine of Fat Boy Joe
Courtesy of the Charles Dickens Museum

Dickens also wrote eloquently about the symptoms of tuberculosis and dyslexia, and some of his passages were used to teach diagnosis to students of medicine.

“Dickens is an unbelievably acute observer of human behaviors,” museum curator Frankie Kubicki told The Guardian. “He captures these behaviors so perfectly that his descriptions can be used to build relationships between symptoms and disease.”

Dickens was also chummy with some of the leading scientists of his day, including Michael Faraday, Charles Darwin, and chemist Jane Marcet, and the exhibition showcases some of the writer's correspondence with these notable figures. Beyond medicine, Dickens also contributed to the fields of chemistry, geology, and environmental science.

Less scientifically sound was the author’s affinity for mesmerism, a form of hypnotism introduced in the 1770s as a method of controlling “animal magnetism,” a magnetic fluid which proponents of the practice believed flowed through all people. Dickens studied the methods of mesmerism and was so convinced by his powers that he later wrote, “I have the perfect conviction that I could magnetize a frying-pan.” A playbill of Animal Magnetism, an 1857 production that Dickens starred in, is also part of the exhibit.

A play script from Animal Magnetism
Courtesy of the Charles Dickens Museum

Located at 48-49 Doughty Street in London, the exhibition will be on display until November 11, 2018.

[h/t The Guardian]

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Health
Feeling Down? Lifting Weights Can Lift Your Mood, Too
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There’s plenty of research that suggests that exercise can be an effective treatment for depression. In some cases of depression, in fact—particularly less-severe ones—scientists have found that exercise can be as effective as antidepressants, which don’t work for everyone and can come with some annoying side effects. Previous studies have largely concentrated on aerobic exercise, like running, but new research shows that weight lifting can be a useful depression treatment, too.

The study in JAMA Psychiatry, led by sports scientists at the University of Limerick in Ireland, examined the results of 33 previous clinical trials that analyzed a total of 1877 participants. It found that resistance training—lifting weights, using resistance bands, doing push ups, and any other exercises targeted at strengthening muscles rather than increasing heart rate—significantly reduced symptoms of depression.

This held true regardless of how healthy people were overall, how much of the exercises they were assigned to do, or how much stronger they got as a result. While the effect wasn’t as strong in blinded trials—where the assessors don’t know who is in the control group and who isn’t, as is the case in higher-quality studies—it was still notable. According to first author Brett Gordon, these trials showed a medium effect, while others showed a large effect, but both were statistically significant.

The studies in the paper all looked at the effects of these training regimes on people with mild to moderate depression, and the results might not translate to people with severe depression. Unfortunately, many of the studies analyzed didn’t include information on whether or not the patients were taking antidepressants, so the researchers weren’t able to determine what role medications might play in this. However, Gordon tells Mental Floss in an email that “the available evidence supports that [resistance training] may be an effective alternative and/or adjuvant therapy for depressive symptoms that could be prescribed on its own and/or in conjunction with other depression treatments,” like therapy or medication.

There haven’t been a lot of studies yet comparing whether aerobic exercise or resistance training might be better at alleviating depressive symptoms, and future research might tackle that question. Even if one does turn out to be better than the other, though, it seems that just getting to the gym can make a big difference.

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