Firefighting Beetles, Polite Phones and Even More Polite Primates


Every roving bachelor has the fear that he's got a son out there. But hey, it could be worse. Just look at Genghis Khan, who spawned enough children that he is now related to 16 million men in Central Asia. The great warrior was legendary for having his way with women, but the scope of his exploits was never fully realized until now. A team of geneticists studying Asian men found that a number of them had similar DNA, which they managed to pin on Khan. From this they realized that 1 in every 200 Asian men is related to him. Just imagine that family reunion.

I'm floating on air

ulevitate.jpgLevitation has long been the stuff of magic shows and wild imaginations, but a group of scientists at the University of St. Andrews says it may soon be reality. They've managed to reverse the Casimir force, which normally attracts objects on one another on an atomic level. For now, the scientists say the discovery can be used on a small scale to create machines with frictionless moving parts, but could, in effect, be strong enough to lift large objects, even a person.

Sobering statistic of the week

Second Life is a virtual world, where people can spend (and lose) real money and make real friends. Unfortunately, network also uses real power, and a lot of it. Blogger Nicholas Carr crunched the numbers supplied by Linden Lab, the company behind Second Life, and figured out that a Second Life avatar burns as much power as the average Brazilian. And people wonder why we're having conservation problems.

The phone that says 'excuse me'

Isn't it embarrassing when you're on the phone with your boss when an incoming call from a bored friend interrupts you? Well, scientists at Intel are working to make sure that doesn't happen by studying speech patterns to detect important conversations. They've tracked conversations for tone and length only to figure out what styles indicate importance. For example, a talk that's largely one-sided and serious likely indicates a professional discussion, while one that's casual and punctuated by laughter would be a friendly one. They say that this technology could be adapted to direct a phone to not interrupt during important calls, but for now we'll just have to stick with the stone-age method of screening our own calls.

Firefighting Beetles, Chivalrous Chimps and more after the jump!

Chivalry in Chimpanzees

chimpanzee-picture.jpgNext time you're in a pickle, you could count on a chimp to help you out. A study at a chimpanzee reserve in Uganda showed that chimps are inherently nice to each other and to other humans. They were willing to pick up a stick for a human who struggled to reach it, even when the chimp had to go as far as eight feet to pick it up and hand it over. This finding casts kindness in a whole new light- it's genetic rather than a culturally-learned custom. I guess that means chivalry never died; maybe it just skipped a generation.

Mission to sleep on Mars

Instead of counting sheep when you can't sleep, why not try going to Mars? Researchers in Boston successfully synced up the sleep cycles of some Earthlings to the 24.65-hour day of Mars, resulting in long-term changes in the biological clock. This proves for the first time that our sleep cycles are actually flexible and could spark some breakthroughs in curing some sleep disorders. At the very least, that's one less thing to worry about when we decide to colonize Mars.

Meet the Beetle

beetle.jpgWe may be the only ones who can prevent forest fires, but a plexiglass beetle may soon be able to help fight them once they start. The OLE is a device that looks like it came from some Star Wars/Harry Potter hybrid and can extinguish fires. Plans are for an army of 30 of the heat-resistant bugs to patrol the Black Forest, finding and putting out fires before they get out of control. Besides shooting flame retardant, the devices also move like real beetles and can even roll into a ball, if the need ever arose for them to stop, drop and roll.

New Patient Test Could Suggest Whether Therapy or Meds Will Work Better for Anxiety

Like many psychological disorders, there's no one-size-fits-all treatment for patients with anxiety. Some might benefit from taking antidepressants, which boost mood-affecting brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. Others might respond better to therapy, and particularly a form called cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT.

Figuring out which form of treatment works best often requires months of trial and error. But experts may have developed a quick clinical test to expedite this process, suggests a new study published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have noted that patients with higher levels of anxiety exhibit more electrical activity in their brains when they make a mistake. They call this phenomenon error-related negativity, or ERN, and measure it using electroencephalography (EEG), a test that records the brain's electric signals.

“People with anxiety disorders tend to show an exaggerated neural response to their own mistakes,” the paper’s lead author, UIC psychiatrist Stephanie Gorka, said in a news release. “This is a biological internal alarm that tells you that you've made a mistake and that you should modify your behavior to prevent making the same mistake again. It is useful in helping people adapt, but for those with anxiety, this alarm is much, much louder.”

Gorka and her colleagues wanted to know whether individual differences in ERN could predict treatment outcomes, so they recruited 60 adult volunteers with various types of anxiety disorders. Also involved was a control group of 26 participants with no history of psychological disorders.

Psychiatrists gauged subjects’ baseline ERN levels by having them wear an EEG cap while performing tricky computer tasks. Ultimately, they all made mistakes thanks to the game's challenging nature. Then, randomized subjects with anxiety disorders were instructed to take an SSRI antidepressant every day for three months, or receive weekly cognitive behavioral therapy for the same duration. (Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of evidence-based talk therapy that forces patients to challenge maladaptive thoughts and develop coping mechanisms to modify their emotions and behavior.)

After three months, the study's patients took the same computer test while wearing EEG caps. Researchers found that those who'd exhibited higher ERN levels at the study's beginning had reduced anxiety levels if they'd been treated with CBT compared to those treated with medication. This might be because the structured form of therapy is all about changing behavior: Those with enhanced ERN might be more receptive to CBT than other patients, as they're already preoccupied with the way they act.

EEG equipment sounds high-tech, but it's relatively cheap and easy to access. Thanks to its availability, UIC psychiatrists think their anxiety test could easily be used in doctors’ offices to measure ERN before determining a course of treatment.

Hulton Archive//Getty Images
Newly Discovered 350-Year-Old Graffiti Shows Sir Isaac Newton's Obsession With Motion Started Early
Hulton Archive//Getty Images
Hulton Archive//Getty Images

Long before he gained fame as a mathematician and scientist, Sir Isaac Newton was a young artist who lacked a proper canvas. Now, a 350-year-old sketch on a wall, discovered at Newton’s childhood home in England, is shedding new light on the budding genius and his early fascination with motion, according to Live Science.

While surveying Woolsthorpe Manor, the Lincolnshire home where Newton was born and conducted many of his most famous experiments, conservators discovered a tiny etching of a windmill next to a fireplace in the downstairs hall. It’s believed that Newton made the drawing as a boy, and may have been inspired by the building of a nearby mill.

A windmill sketch, believed to have been made by a young Sir Isaac Newton at his childhood home in Lincolnshire, England.
A windmill sketch, believed to have been made by a young Sir Isaac Newton at his childhood home in Lincolnshire, England.
National Trust

Newton was born at Woolsthorpe Manor in 1642, and he returned for two years after a bubonic plague outbreak forced Cambridge University, where he was studying mechanical philosophy, to close temporarily in 1665. It was in this rural setting that Newton conducted his prism experiments with white light, worked on his theory of “fluxions,” or calculus, and famously watched an apple fall from a tree, a singular moment that’s said to have led to his theory of gravity.

Paper was a scarce commodity in 17th century England, so Newton often sketched and scrawled notes on the manor’s walls and ceilings. While removing old wallpaper in the 1920s and '30s, tenants discovered several sketches that may have been made by the scientist. But the windmill sketch remained undetected for centuries, until conservators used a light imaging technique called Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) to survey the manor’s walls.

Conservators using light technology to survey the walls of Woolsthorpe Manor,  the childhood home of Sir Isaac Newton.
A conservator uses light technology to survey the walls of Woolsthorpe Manor, the childhood home of Sir Isaac Newton.
National Trust

RTI uses various light conditions to highlight shapes and colors that aren’t immediately visible to the naked eye. “It’s amazing to be using light, which Newton understood better than anyone before him, to discover more about his time at Woolsthorpe,” conservator Chris Pickup said in a press release.

The windmill sketch suggests that young Newton “was fascinated by mechanical objects and the forces that made them work,” added Jim Grevatte, a program manager at Woolsthorpe Manor. “Paper was expensive, and the walls of the house would have been repainted regularly, so using them as a sketchpad as he explored the world around him would have made sense," he said.

The newly discovered graffiti might be one of many hidden sketches drawn by Newton, so conservators plan to use thermal imaging to detect miniscule variations in the thickness of wall plaster and paint. This technique could reveal even more mini-drawings.

[h/t Live Science]


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