Recent Interesting Science Articles (Apr ’12)Saturday, May 5, 2012 13:20
Posted in category Science
No less than five articles this month! I’ve been a little busy bee, especially with moving into a new house and all.
- Jon Stewart commented that you rarely see a headline in 2012 that sounds like it should be a headline in 2012 when you were just a kid. This is of course apropos of the asteroid mining plan announced by space startup Planetary Resources. There are lots of articles on this all over the web but this one from Forbes talks about the firm’s plans to be cashflow positive even though no actual mining will happen for more than ten years at least. That makes it sound a bit more real and less of a pipe dream, even if it is backed by Google’s founders and the creator of Microsoft Office.
- The wise old mentor is a trope that everyone knows, but is it true? Does age actually confer wisdom? Inasmuch that wisdom can be quantifiable, researchers from the University of Waterloo, Canada, has attempted to verify just that, as detailed in this article from The Economist. The results are nothing short of astonishing. North Americans do appear to gain wisdom with age, but the Japanese appeared to be nearly as wise as wizened North Americans even when young and their wisdom scores never varied much with age. This is just the sort of finding that calls for lots more cultural study.
- When I was studying in France, my French language professor liked to comment about how the Chinese can say so many things with so few words. This is because each syllable in the Chinese language is unusually dense with information, possibly because of the different tonal variations possible. This Scientific American article shows how to correlate this fact with another observation: different languages are spoken at different speeds. It turns out that while each syllable in Chinese is packed with more information than the norm, the Chinese language is also one of the slowest spoken languages, so its overall information transmission rate still roughly matches that of other languages. In the same way, languages which are spoken very fast, such as Spanish, have less information per syllable.
- Ever since buckyballs were invented in 1985, it was hailed as a game-changing revolutionary material and science writers loved to hype it up. I suspect that it’s at least partly because using the word buckminsterfullerene in print is so fun. Until very recently however, very few practical applications have been found for its unusual properties. This blog post points at a completely unexpected use for it. A team studying the long-term toxicology effects of the molecule by giving it to rats in a solution of olive oil not only found it to be completely non-toxic, it actually extended the lifespan of the rats by some 90% making it the most effective life-extension treatment ever found for rodents. Now, that is game-changing indeed.
- On the astronomy front, a huge new discovery about what surrounds the Milky Way is new reason to think that the mysterious dark matter might not exist after. Dark matter was posited to explain why the relatively sparse matter that we can observe is far less than the mass that the universe needs to have. It turns out that we simply haven’t been looking hard enough. This news release from the AlphaGalileo Foundation trumpets the discovery of a vast structure of satellite galaxies and clusters of stars that surrounds the Milky Way. I guess space just isn’t that sparse after all.
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