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Chocolate Toothpaste, Paper-thin Batteries and the Resurgence of the Dodo (the bird, not your neighbor)?

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A Toothpaste Cathy Would Love

Picture 21.pngI didn't think it could get any better than the day my dental hygienist told me that beer cleaned teeth (a fact I've never bothered to verify because I just don't want it to be wrong). But now it turns out that chocolate may be the best ingredient to add to toothpaste. A doctoral candidate at Tulane University has shown that cocoa extract is more effective at fighting cavities than fluoride, having done animal tests and developed a peppermint toothpaste with cocoa instead of fluoride. It could be another 2-4 years before the chocolate toothpaste is commercially available, and until then you should probably just stick to regular, foul-tasting paste; something tells me brushing with Hershey's and gargling with Yoo-hoo wasn't what he had in mind

Madly in Love

say anything.jpgWe've all heard that love makes us do crazy things, but we never realized how true that actually was. A scientist in Switzerland surveyed a group of adolescents and found that those who claimed to be in love actually exhibited signs of hypomania, a mild form of bipolar disorder. For example, the love-struck teens needed one hour less of sleep every night than their counterparts and were also twice as likely to say they had creative energy. The researchers concluded that adolescent love is a "psychopathologically prominent stage," and that psychologists should take this into account when treating teens. Anyone looking to study this subject more should look into the collected works of John Hughes.

Paper-thin Batteries

PaperBattery.jpgBatteries almost always make devices twice as heavy as they need to be. However, a group of scientists from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and MIT have created a new technique of creating batteries that results in paper-thin power cells. The process is mighty complex, but the crux of it is in carbon nanotubes. As of now, the batteries are pretty weak, but they are able to fit in unusual shapes and could be made bigger and better. If they get more powerful, just imagine how thin cell-phones can be.

MORE: Astronaut Stress Tests, life-extending wines and Dodos (who're squawking not to call it a comeback), all after the break!

Use Fossil Fuels, Save the Earth

Yes, you read that headline correctly. As strange as it seems, some scientists around the world are presenting evidence that using biofuels won't do a whole lot to save the environment. A representative of the International Energy Agency says that creating biofuels will require cutting down forests to grow more corn, so, in the end, the net carbon reduction will be negligent. Scientists at the University of Leeds in Britain agree, saying that we wouldn't see any different for 50-100 years, which is far too long to wait. Instead, they are arguing that governments focus on replanting forests and making fossil fuels more efficient.

Space-age Stress Balls

Since no one can hear you scream in space, it must be difficult to figure out how stressed people are. And unlike in the easy-going world I live in, where I can easily go back and edit out stress-induced errors, stress for astronauts can cause costly and life-threatening problems (see: Mir Space Station). That's why NASA has designed a handheld device with a three-minute test to alert astronauts when they're too stressed to perform tasks.. The psychomotor vigilance task tests how quickly the subject can react to a flashing light to test sleep deprivation and mental fatigue. It will replace the ten-minute, multi-part test that includes pattern matching and repeating numbers that, while it sounds more fun, hasn't been effectively validated.

Dodo's Making a Comeback

dodo.jpgThe dodo was a flightless bird that laid its eggs on the ground and went extinct 400 years ago. But now we have a chance at studying its DNA, thanks to a discovery on an island off of Africa. Scientists looking for cave cockroaches stumbled upon a skeleton of a dodo that had been preserved nicely because of the environment in the cave. The discoverers theorize that the dodo, which they have christened "Fred," ended up in the cave because it had been trying to escape a storm and fell down a hole. If my wildest dreams come true, that means we could soon have a lame, dodo-filled version of Jurassic Park, which will assuredly make a less exciting movie.

Is the Fountain of Youth filled with Red Wine?

A professor at Harvard is purporting to be a modern-day Ponce de Leon with his research in resveratrol, a chemical he says can slow aging. David Sinclair says that resveratrol, which is found in red wine, extended the life span of mice by 24 percent and other animals by 59 percent. There's an understandable amount of skepticism around his research, but Sinclair says he believes the chemical could work on humans and has gathered a good deal of funding. Even though the research sounds exciting, I can't help but feel shades of the immensely unsettling Tuck Everlasting.

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Words
15 Subatomic Word Origins
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In July 2017, researchers at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) found evidence for a new fundamental particle of the universe: Ξcc++, a special kind of Xi baryon that may help scientists better understand how quarks are held together. Is that Greek to you? Well, it should be. The names for many of the particles that make up the universe—as well as a few that are still purely theoretical—come from ancient Greek. Here’s a look at 15 subatomic etymologies.

1. ION

An ion is any atom or molecule with an overall electric charge. English polymath William Whewell suggested the name in an 1834 letter to Michael Faraday, who made major discoveries in electromagnetism. Whewell based ion on the ancient Greek verb for “go” (ienai), as ions move towards opposite charges. Faraday and Whewell had previously considered zetode and stechion.

2. ELECTRON

George Stoney, an Anglo-Irish physicist, introduced the term electron in 1891 as a word for the fundamental unit of charge carried by an ion. It was later applied to the negative, nucleus-orbiting particle discovered by J. J. Thomson in 1897. Electron nabs the -on from ion, kicking off the convention of using -on as an ending for all particles, and fuses it with electric. Electric, in turn, comes from the Greek for “amber,” in which the property was first observed. Earlier in the 19th century, electron was the name for an alloy of gold and silver.

3. PROTON

The electron’s counterpart, the positively charged proton in the nuclei of all atoms, was named by its discoverer, Ernest Rutherford. He suggested either prouton or proton in honor of William Prout, a 19th-century chemist. Prout speculated that hydrogen was a part of all other elements and called its atom protyle, a Greek coinage joining protos ("first") and hule ("timber" or "material") [PDF]. Though the word had been previously used in biology and astronomy, the scientific community went with proton.

4. NEUTRON

Joining the proton in the nucleus is the neutron, which is neither positive nor negative: It’s neutral, from the Latin neuter, “neither.” Rutherford used neutron in 1921 when he hypothesized the particle, which James Chadwick didn’t confirm until 1932. American chemist William Harkins independently used neutron in 1921 for a hydrogen atom and a proton-electron pair. Harkins’s latter application calls up the oldest instance of neutron, William Sutherland’s 1899 name for a hypothetical combination of a hydrogen nucleus and an electron.

5. QUARK

Protons and neutrons are composed of yet tinier particles called quarks. For their distinctive name, American physicist Murray Gell-Mann was inspired in 1963 by a line from James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake: “Three quarks for Muster Mark.” Originally, Gell-Mann thought there were three types of quarks. We now know, though, there are six, which go by names that are just as colorful: up, down, charm, strange, top, and bottom.

6. MESON

Made up of a quark and an antiquark, which has identical mass but opposite charge, the meson is a short-lived particle whose mass is between that of a proton and an electron. Due to this intermediate size, the meson is named for the ancient Greek mesos, “middle.” Indian physicist Homi Bhabha suggested meson in 1939 instead of its original name, mesotron: “It is felt that the ‘tr’ in this word is redundant, since it does not belong to the Greek root ‘meso’ for middle; the ‘tr’ in neutron and electron belong, of course, to the roots ‘neutr’ and ‘electra’.”

7., 8., AND 9. BOSON, PHOTON, AND GLUON

Mesons are a kind of boson, named by English physicist Paul Dirac in 1947 for another Indian physicist, Satyendra Nath Bose, who first theorized them. Bosons demonstrate a particular type of spin, or intrinsic angular momentum, and carry fundamental forces. The photon (1926, from the ancient Greek for “light”) carries the electromagnetic force, for instance, while the gluon carries the so-called strong force. The strong force holds quarks together, acting like a glue, hence gluon.

10. HADRON

In 2012, CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) discovered a very important kind of boson: the Higgs boson, which generates mass. The hadrons the LHC smashes together at super-high speeds refer to a class of particles, including mesons, that are held together by the strong force. Russian physicist Lev Okun alluded to this strength by naming the particles after the ancient Greek hadros, “large” or “bulky,” in 1962.

11. LEPTON

Hadrons are opposite, in both makeup and etymology, to leptons. These have extremely tiny masses and don’t interact via the strong force, hence their root in the ancient Greek leptos, “small” or “slender.” The name was first suggested by the Danish chemist Christian Møller and Dutch-American physicist Abraham Pais in the late 1940s. Electrons are classified as leptons.

12. BARYON

Another subtype of hadron is the baryon, which also bears the stamp of Abraham Pais. Baryons, which include the more familiar protons and neutrons, are far more massive, relatively speaking, than the likes of leptons. On account of their mass, Pais put forth the name baryon in 1953, based on the ancient Greek barys, “heavy” [PDF].

13. AXION

Quirky Murray Gell-Mann isn't the only brain with a sense of humor. In his 2004 Nobel Prize lecture, American physicist Frank Wilczek said he named a “very light, very weakly interacting” hypothetical particle the axion back in 1978 “after a laundry detergent [brand], since they clean up a problem with an axial current” [PDF].

14. TACHYON

In ancient Greek, takhys meant “swift,” a fitting name for the tachyon, which American physicist Gerald Feinberg concocted in 1967 for a hypothetical particle that can travel faster than the speed of light. Not so fast, though, say most physicists, as the tachyon would break the fundamental laws of physics as we know them.

15. CHAMELEON

In 2003, the American physicist Justin Khoury and South African-American theoretical physicist Amanda Weltman hypothesized that the elusive dark energy may come in the form of a particle, which they cleverly called the chameleon. Just as chameleons can change color to suit their surroundings, so the physical characteristics of the chameleon particle change “depending on its environment,” explains Symmetry, the online magazine dedicated to particle physics. Chameleon itself derives from the ancient Greek khamaileon, literally “on-the-ground lion.”

For more particle names, see Symmetry’s “A Brief Etymology of Particle Physics,” which helped provide some of the information in this list.

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Space
Look Up! The Orionid Meteor Shower Peaks This Weekend
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October is always a great month for skywatching. If you missed the Draconids, the first meteor shower of the month, don't despair: the Orionids peak this weekend. It should be an especially stunning show this year, as the Moon will offer virtually no interference. If you've ever wanted to get into skywatching, this is your chance.

The Orionids is the second of two meteor showers caused by the debris field left by the comet Halley. (The other is the Eta Aquarids, which appear in May.) The showers are named for the constellation Orion, from which they seem to originate.

All the stars are lining up (so to speak) for this show. First, it's on the weekend, which means you can stay up late without feeling the burn at work the next day. Tonight, October 20, you'll be able to spot many meteors, and the shower peaks just after midnight tomorrow, October 21, leading into Sunday morning. Make a late-night picnic of the occasion, because it takes about an hour for your eyes to adjust to the darkness. Bring a blanket and a bottle of wine, lay out and take in the open skies, and let nature do the rest.

Second, the Moon, which was new only yesterday, is but a sliver in the evening sky, lacking the wattage to wash out the sky or conceal the faintest of meteors. If your skies are clear and light pollution low, this year you should be able to catch about 20 meteors an hour, which isn't a bad way to spend a date night.

If clouds interfere with your Orionids experience, don't fret. There will be two more meteor showers in November and the greatest of them all in December: the Geminids.

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