CLOSE
Original image

New TV Alert: Science Channel & Popular Science Team Up for "Future Of..."

Original image

Starting tonight at 9pm (ET/PT) and on Mondays hereafter, a new science show hits The Science Channel -- it's called Popular Science's Future Of.... I've seen the first few episodes, and think it's worth watching. The premise is simple: the host -- blogger/comedian Baratunde Thurston -- visits scientists who are working on prototypes of new inventions, then tries them out. In the first episode, Superhuman, Baratunde tries out a series of inventions related to human performance and body enhancement (including several from my favorite Nerdvana, the MIT Media Lab) to see how they really work. Below is a roundup of some of the key stuff covered in the first episode.

Cooling Glove

Stanford biologists are making a cooling device that you wear on your hand; by sticking your hand into this thing, you can quickly and safely reduce your core temperature -- thus reducing sweating and potentially avoiding overheating during a workout. (Pictured above: Baratunde trying it out.) Why a glove? Well, the hand acts like a radiator for the body, and lots of blood flows through that area -- by cooling the hand, blood throughout the body can be cooled quickly. This invention already works, it's just a bit bulky at the moment. I'm hoping for a Michael Jackson-style sparkly glove that I can rock at the gym.

Limb Regeneration Powder

You've probably heard the story of the guy who grew about a half-inch of his fingertip back (including fingernail) at the ripe of age of 72, using an experimental powder derived from pigs' bladders. (If you haven't heard this, read a quick summary at Wikipedia. Basically, an older man accidentally cut off a segment of his finger, and his brother, a University of Pittsburgh scientist, tried an experimental regenerative powder on him. It worked.) While some scientists disagree about whether any regeneration actually happened here (some say it's just normal healing), this powder certainly seems like interesting stuff -- could it, or a regenerative substance like it, someday lead to regeneration of dying organs (thus doing away with transplants), or missing limbs? Baratunde explains...though he doesn't lose any fingers trying it out.

Wearable "Sixth Sense" Projector/Camera/PDA/Phone/Everything Device

An MIT Media Lab project, the Sixth Sense device is a wearable computer that hangs around your neck (Snow Crash gargoyles, anyone?) and instead of a screen, uses a micro-projector that projects its contents onto the nearest wall, car, whatever. It also includes a camera, so you can use your hands to interact with the picture in mid-air, implementing a sort of "touchscreen" without the touching. While it's still in the research phase (it's bulky, the picture it projects is a little unsteady, and so on), this gizmo is at least academically interesting -- and who knows, perhaps it's what we'll all be using in the not-too-distant future.

And Much, Much More...

The first episode also covers super-muscled mice (and Bully Whippets, those creepy hulk-style dogs), bionic Terminator-style contact lenses, and prosthetic limbs for athletes (that last one is the closest to a practical application, as its primary researcher is a double amputee and uses his own research samples every day). It's compelling stuff, presented in a clear and unaffected manner. Most of the time, I find these "pop science" shows to be way too dumb or hyper to hold my interest -- I want more science, less wackiness. This show finds the right balance, with an intelligent (and fun) host, compelling subject matter, and a healthy dose of actual science content. Having blogged about science and tech for several years, I recognized many of the projects in the upcoming episodes (for example, the Siftables "smart blocks") -- this is the real deal.

So tune in tonight (Monday, August 10) at 9pm (ET/PT) on The Science Channel to catch the first episode. There'll be many more, coming each Monday night, for your science-loving enjoyment. For more information: official website, Twitter feed, Facebook page, and I'm sure you can find the rest from there.

Original image
iStock
arrow
science
The Brain Chemistry Behind Your Caffeine Boost
Original image
iStock

Whether it’s consumed as coffee, candy, or toothpaste, caffeine is the world’s most popular drug. If you’ve ever wondered how a shot of espresso can make your groggy head feel alert and ready for the day, TED-Ed has the answer.

Caffeine works by hijacking receptors in the brain. The stimulant is nearly the same size and shape as adenosine, an inhibitory neurotransmitter that slows down neural activity. Adenosine builds up as the day goes on, making us feel more tired as the day progresses. When caffeine enters your system, it falls into the receptors meant to catch adenosine, thus keeping you from feeling as sleepy as you would otherwise. The blocked adenosine receptors also leave room for the mood-boosting compound dopamine to settle into its receptors. Those increased dopamine levels lead to the boost in energy and mood you feel after finishing your morning coffee.

For a closer look at how this process works, check out the video below.

[h/t TED-Ed]

Original image
Sophie Nightingale / University of Warwick
arrow
science
Can You Spot Which Photo Is Fake? Most People Can’t
Original image
Sophie Nightingale / University of Warwick

In a digital world, it’s easier than ever to fool people. Sophisticated Photoshop jobs, social media, and viral news cycles mislead readers into mistaking shots from a Lebanese music video for real scenes of destruction from Aleppo, thinking that Vladimir Putin was the center of attention at the G-20 summit, or believing that Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe posed together for a photo shoot in the park.

While it would be nice to tell ourselves that we would never be duped by such fake images, the truth is, most people can’t distinguish between a manipulated photo and a real one. That’s the takeaway from a new study in Cognitive Research: Principle and Implications. As the team at Science reports, the participants were only able to pinpoint fake images two-thirds of the time.

First, psychologists from the University of Warwick asked more than 700 volunteers to look at real and fake images and identify the changes. The researchers used 10 color photographs sourced from Google searches, manipulating them through airbrushing, adding elements in, subtracting elements, and distorting shadows, and shearing trees. They applied each of these five manipulation techniques separately to a portion of the photos, eventually creating 30 manipulated photos and 10 real ones. All the participants saw one of each of the manipulation types in different photos.

An older man stands in the street in front of a house.
Can you spot the differences between the manipulated image at the top of the page and the original version above?
Sophie Nightingale / University of Warwick

The participants performed slightly above chance rates, identifying photos correctly as real only 58 percent of the time and spotting manipulations 66 percent of the time. Even when they did identify a manipulated photo, though, they didn’t necessarily know where it had been altered.

In a second study, the researchers did the same thing, but using photos study co-author Sophie J. Nightingale took with her Nikon camera, controlling for the fact that images found online could be manipulated before the researchers even downloaded them. They then had almost 660 people take an online survey testing their ability to spot fakes. They had to look at photos and label whether it was fake and if they could see where it was manipulated, whether it was fake but they didn’t know where it had been altered, or whether it was an original. At the end of the study, the subjects identified just 62 percent of the fake images correctly.

Woman standing outside
The first image is the original. The second was manipulated to add in a water spout, airbrush the woman's face, and make other slight changes.
Sophie Nightingale / University of Warwick

The results were the same regarding images that had been manipulated in both overtly unrealistic ways and photos that featured more plausible changes. One reason might be the way that our visual system simplifies information. As long as object geometries and shadows are roughly correct, our eyes accept them as accurate.

“It remains to be determined whether it is possible to train people to make use of physically implausible inconsistencies,” the researchers write. “Perhaps one possibility would entail ‘teaching' the visual system to make full use of physical properties of the world as opposed to automatically simplifying them.”

You can still take a 10-minute online survey for the project here and test your own manipulation awareness skills. (I had to take wild guesses on most of them.)

If this makes you weep for the future of the world, at least know that it’s a timeless problem. Manipulated, misleading images have been around since the earliest days of photography.

[h/t Science]

SECTIONS

More from mental floss studios