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Bora’s Picks (October 11th, 2013)

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Seeing Maps of Sounds and Smells by Rose Eveleth:

Jorge Louis Borges once described an empire that wanted to build a map. But the maps they had seen before were not precise enough. They had too much compression and approximation. There was too much inexactitude. And so the empire eventually made a map of the empire that was the size of the empire, and “coincided point for point with it.” But even this map, the size of the empire it described, could not capture the totality of experiences within the empire. Sure, it could tell you exactly where the castle is, or which roads intersected with which others and where, but it couldn’t, for example, tell you what that intersection smelled like…

New predictions of phosphorus shortage are cause for worry by Alexandra Ossola:

Financier-turned-environmentalist Jeremy Grantham has a reputation for extremely accurate predictions. As the chief investment strategist of Grantham Mayo van Otterloo, one of the world’s largest fund management companies, he deftly steered investors away from financial ruin in the collapse of the housing bubble in 2008 and the Internet bubble almost decade earlier…..

Brown Recluse Spider’s Silk Is Strong and Really Strange by Nadia Drake:

One of the most feared spiders in North America might soon be known for something other than its notoriously nasty venom: really strange silk. The brown recluse spider spins a silk unlike any other produced by known arachnids or insects. Instead of being round, the recluse silk fibers are flat and extremely thin, like a silky nanoribbon. And they’re spotted with tiny spherical dots, a team of scientists reports today in Advanced Materials….

Pufferfish Love Explains Mysterious Underwater Circles by Douglas Main:

In 1995, divers noticed a beautiful, strange circular pattern on the seafloor off Japan, and soon after, more circles were discovered nearby. Some likened these formations to “underwater crop circles.” The geometric formations mysteriously came and went, and for more than a decade, nobody knew what made them….

Remarriages add complexity to dementia caregiving by Kathleen Raven:

Negative relations with stepchildren can compound the burdens a wife feels while caring for her husband with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia, a new study suggests. “We learned from women in the study that those with higher levels of care-related disagreements with stepfamily members felt a significantly greater burden and feelings of depression related to care,” said lead author Carey Wexler Sherman of the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research in Ann Arbor….

Tree frogs evolving to monkey around by Krystnell A. Storr:

Tree frogs know how to walk the line. By extending their limbs one step at a time and wrapping their fingers around narrow twigs, some tree frogs move from place to place without making a single hop. Now, a new study shows that this “walk-don’t-hop” behavior is more than just an adaptation to life among leaves….

Meditation alone doesn’t lower blood pressure: study by Kathleen Raven:

Stress reduction exercises have been linked to many health benefits, but lower blood pressure may not be one of them. A new study found eight weeks of mindfulness meditation had no effect on people with slightly elevated blood pressure who were not yet taking medication….

When an ice pack isn’t enough: Whole body cryotherapy is gaining popularity but not credibility by Sarah Jacoby:

“Are you nervous?” she asks me as she takes my blood pressure. “I can tell.” The cotton robe I’m wearing keeps sliding me off the wooden stool I’m supposed to be sitting patiently on. But I have to wear the slippery robe because I’m not wearing too much else. And I’m not wearing too much else because I’m about to spend the next two minutes of my life in a cryogenic chamber set to -254 degrees Fahrenheit….

U.S. faces shortage of primary care doctors by Carolyn Crist:

When Travis Smith was an undergraduate, he shadowed doctors at health clinics in the Central African nation of Zambia. He saw a need that couldn’t be met. People lined up for days, waiting to be seen. Mothers held crying babies. Nurses quickly recorded vital signs and asked about symptoms. Sometimes antibiotics were available. Most times, nurses could only console families and urge them to drink clean water, find clean sources of food, and wait….

Nobel prize in physiology recognizes the cargo delivery system in our cells by Jillian Rose Lim:

The Nobel Assembly named Randy Schekman, James Rothman and Thomas Südhof the joint winners of the Nobel Prize in Physiology today for discovering how our cells organize, coordinate and transport their internal molecules—a Fed-Ex style delivery system whose efficiency can impact brain disease, diabetes, and immune system disorders. …

Magnesium just as important as calcium for a child’s bone health by Rebecca Burton:

We’ve all heard that milk does the body good, especially for growing children who need the calcium to build strong bones. But a new study shows that Popeye may have had the right idea with his spinach habit….

Two theorists, Engelert and Higgs, share Nobel Prize in physics by Andrew P. Han:

As soon as physicists announced that they had likely found a particle matching the description of the much sought after Higgs Boson, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences — the body responsible for awarding the scientific Nobel Prizes — was on the clock. When would they award the Nobel Prize for one of the great triumphs of modern science? And more interestingly, to whom would they award that prize?….

Government shutdown affects some med students by Jodi Murphy:

On the evening of Sept. 30, Palmer Feibelman received an email he didn’t expect. It informed him that he might not be receiving his monthly stipend of $2,122 from the U.S. Navy due to the government shutdown. Feibelman is a first-year medical student at the Georgia Regents University-University of Georgia Medical Partnership in Athens and a recipient in the Health Professions Scholarship Program….

Theoretical chemists win Nobel Prize in chemistry by tackling physics by Kathryn Free:

The Nobel Prize in chemistry was awarded this morning to three theoretical chemists who created computer models that combined quantum and classical physics to describe chemical reactions. Martin Karplus from the University of Strasbourg in France and Harvard University, Michael Levitt from Stanford University and Arieh Warshel from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, published their work in the 1970s, and since then, chemists have been using their models to predict how chemical reactions occur….

Book review– Superfund: The Political Economy of Risk by Rebecca Burton:

Whenever someone reads the word “Superfund” in the news media, negative words that come to mind might be, “controversy, delay, outrage, cancer, mistrust,” and the list goes on. Superfund and the political and public battles that go along with it are prime meat for the press, especially when you tie in environmental and health risks and “big government.” Coming from a journalist, I can easily see how these types of stories spread like wildfire. But, John Hird’s suggestions for reform of what he calls an inherently inefficient law that was doomed from the onset, may easily make hazardous waste sites less dramatic and therefore less newsworthy….

Income inequality linked to depression by Kathleen Raven:

American women face a greater risk of depression in states where personal income levels vary widely, according to a new study covering 50 U.S. states. Huge income gaps in a community can make people feel impoverished, even when they are not poor by economic standards – and blaming themselves for their “failure” may add to depression risk, researchers said….

Beeing There: The Search for Pesticides’ Effect on Declining Bee Colonies Moves to the Fields by Francie Diep:

A honeybee’s brain is hardly bigger than the tip of a dog’s whisker, yet you can train a bee just as Pavlov got his pups to drool on hearing their dinner bell. Using a sugar solution as a reward, you can teach the insect to extend its little mouthparts in response to different scents….

Flesh-eating bacteria: an underachieving scourge by Joshua A. Krisch:

Florida is worried that rare bacteria in the water might eat us alive. A public service announcement issued by the Florida Department of Health warned residents not to eat raw oysters and reminded them that horrible, necrotic death can happen to anyone….

Could the Higgs Nobel be the end of particle physics? by Harry Cliff:

The 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics has been awarded to François Englert and Peter Higgs for their work that explains why subatomic particles have mass. They predicted the existence of the Higgs boson, a fundamental particle, which was confirmed last year by experiments conducted at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider….

Because I work in a hospital, I can’t help you by Ilana Yurkiewicz:

Had I met her anywhere but the hospital, I would have gone to her side. I would have asked her what was wrong. I would have offered to help. She was 99 years old and about to undergo surgery. Pre-operative holding is generally a busy place. Patients lie in gurneys, spending some last moments with loved ones and fielding questions from various players of the surgical team as they come to the bedside. No, I’ve never had surgery before. Yes, I have sleep apnea. Just gonna place your IV! It’s a highly controlled, organized process. Nurses, anesthesiologists, surgeons come with specific tasks to be done: forms to be signed, equipment to be placed. Once each box is checked and the operating room is prepared, we can roll you back…..

Dodo Extinction Came Later Than Previously Thought, 17th Century Observations Suggest by Douglas Main:

When geophysicist Andrew Jackson was poring over 17th-century observations of Earth’s magnetic field, perhaps the last thing he expected to discover was a new potential extinction date for the dodo, the goofy-looking, flightless bird that became a poster child of extinct species…..

Extinct marine reptiles swam like sharks by Sedeer El-Showk:

Mosasaurs are a group of extinct reptiles that were the dominant predators in the seas of the Late Cretaceous period (98–66 million years ago) and were first discovered by Dutch quarry workers in 1764. There is an ongoing debate about how these reptiles moved through water. A new study in Nature Communications shows that some mosasaurs did not move like sea snakes, ambushing their prey as once thought, but were fast swimmers similar to sharks….

Scientists Accidentally Create Improbable Two-Dimensional Quasicrystals by Nadia Drake:

A strange new substance has unexpectedly emerged from a university lab in Germany: a two-dimensional quasicrystal, consisting of 12-sided, non-repeating atomic units. The quasicrystalline film, described today in Nature, is the first example of a 2-D semi-ordered crystal – and the latest member of a family that already includes some of the most surprising forms of matter found either in nature or the lab….

Study enlists kids to combat antibiotics overuse by Kathleen Raven:

European public health campaigns have long fought the myth that antibiotics can shorten a bout of the common cold or flu with messages targeted to adults, and with mixed results. Now, British researchers are bringing the “Take care, not antibiotics” message straight to kids. Starting in January, 13-year-olds at the eighth-grade level in England’s schools will be teaching peers and younger kids about microbes, proper hygiene and why antibiotic overuse is a bad thing. Researchers hope to implement a nation-wide program in September 2014….





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