Archives For cool science


Image Credit: animal.discovery.com.

A serum derived from the humble Opossum, who seems to be protected against any form of poisoning, could completely revolutionise the way snake bites are treated.

Some scientists have done some tests on a natural lethal toxin neutralizing factor (LTNF) occurring in the Opossum.

The study concludes:

“On the other hand, LTNF is effective against the venoms of all species of snakes. Therefore, LTNF can become a universal treatment for snakebites. Furthermore, LTNF is effective against scorpion and bee venoms, plant-derived ricin and bacterial toxin botulinum. Therefore, LTNF can become a universal treatment for toxins derived from animals, plants, and bacteria. In the standard treatment for snakebites, massive amounts of antivenom are administered for effectiveness, even though a large part of the population is hypersensitive to antivenom made in horses. Under such conditions, LTNF will be a most favorable replacement. It is further anticipated that the invention of LTNF has military applications due to the variety of unknown exposures that can occur under military conditions.”

So cool. BoingBoing has a bit of a story on the test that makes it clear just how awesome this gear is – some rats who had the serum introduced were also immune to poisoning.

There’s an adage amongst those who know my siblings and I, its almost axiomatic. When it comes to party games, and some board games (excluding Scrabble and Take Two which we generally take fairly seriously), we’re horrible cheaters.

I’ve never known why. I put it down to having a limited attention span and not believing most games are worth playing unless you win.

Turns out we’re just creative. So there. Stop oppressing us with your desire for boring conformity and let us think outside the box.

“The same enterprising mind that allows creative people to consider new possibilities, generate original ideas, and resolve conflicts innovatively may be what also helps them justify their own dishonest behavior, said the authors of the new study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
“Ethical dilemmas often require people to weigh two opposing forces: the desire to maximize self-interest and the desire to maintain a positive view of oneself,” wrote business professors Francesca Gino, at Harvard, and Dan Ariely, at Duke University. “Recent research has suggested that individuals tend to resolve this tension through self-serving rationalizations: They behave dishonestly enough to profit from their unethical behavior but honestly enough to maintain a positive self-concept as honest human beings.”

Turns out I’m also “ethically flexible”… who knew.

This could be the future.

That’s a mock up of a tugboat towing an iceberg. The plan is to stop letting fresh water melt into the ocean and start shipping it to places where there isn’t much water. Seems clever. Though pretty inefficient.

Here’s how it “might” work.

This is just a concept – but it is, to use the obvious pun/metaphor – the tip of the iceberg. You can read more about the pie in the sky plan here.

“The cost of iceberg transport have not been made public yet, but pilot programs–initially just try to tow a mini-iceberg a short distance, says Simard–are underway. And there is talk, at least, of a real-world trial in 2012 or 2013.”

I’m sure there’s some sort of sermon illustration here. And it’s less ecumenically problematic than talking about bringing the mountain to Mohammad.

Yeah. That’s right. Scientific studies of the world of Asterix and his gallic drug addicts has demonstrated that more than 700 traumatic brain injuries occurred within the pages of the popular comic. Helmets apparently don’t really help.

More information about the study can be found here (all the proper peer reviewed stuff is here)

“Seven hundred and four TBIs were identified. The majority of persons involved were adult and male. The major cause of trauma was assault (98.8%). Traumata were classified to be severe in over 50% (GCS 3-8). Different neurological deficits and signs of basal skull fractures were identified. Although over half of head-injury victims had a severe initial impairment of consciousness, no case of death or permanent neurological deficit was found. The largest group of head-injured characters was constituted by Romans (63.9%), while Gauls caused nearly 90% of the TBIs. A helmet had been worn by 70.5% of victims but had been lost in the vast majority of cases (87.7%). In 83% of cases, TBIs were caused under the influence of a doping agent called “the magic potion”.”

Hopefully that’s some valuable tax payer funded research. Because this is important and groundbreaking stuff that will help tourists in Europe no end.

This is brilliant. It’s like a venus fly clock. It’s the creation of mad scientists Auger and Loizeau. Eight dead flies equals 12 days of clock power.

“This robot uses flypaper as it’s means of entrapment. This paper is placed on a roller mechanism. At the base of the roller a scraper removes any captured insects. These fall into the microbial fuel cell placed underneath. The electricity generated by the flies is used to power both a motor turning the rollers and a small LCD clock.”

I hate flies. But this is a step closer to robots taking over the world and feeding on humans. Just saying.

If you don’t believe me, here’s proof, these robots need blood…

Carnivorous Domestic Entertainment Robots from Auger-Loizeau on Vimeo.

Free Kick Physics

Nathan Campbell —  September 6, 2010

Roberto Carlos, a Brazillian defender famous for belting free kicks with incredible control (as opposed to Beckham who tended to go for placement over power), hit a pretty memorable free kick against France in the 1998 World Cup. The video is below.

The kick seems to defy the laws of physics. So some scientists have built an equation to explain it. Their work has just been published.

“We discuss the trajectory of a fast revolving solid ball moving in a fluid of comparable density. As the ball slows down owing to drag, its trajectory follows an exponential spiral as long as the rotation speed remains constant: at the characteristic distance where the ball speed is significantly affected by the drag, the bending of the trajectory increases, surprisingly. Later, the rotation speed decreases, which makes the ball follow a second kind of spiral, also described in the paper. Finally, the use of these highly curved trajectories is shown to be relevant to sports.”


Image Credit: Wired Magazine’s story on the study.

Butterflies and Vampires

Nathan Campbell —  August 10, 2010

The sparkling vampires of Twilight have long annoyed vampire purists. Nowhere in the history of vampire mythology have vampires been said to sparkle like fairies.

But an enterprising student of science has made a connection by observing the behaviour of vampires in the realm of Twilight. Vampires are unusually strong for their size. Like insects. They feed on blood from other animals. Like insects.

Here are some of the important connections you’ll need to make to fully accept this brilliant conclusion:

“What about vampires’ superhuman abilities? The Tiger Beetle is technically ‘the fastest running land animal’. The strongest animal is the world is the horned dung beetle. Insects also have incredible vision; most see colors invisible to humans and bees see in color at five times the speed we’re able. Vampires and other insects don’t breathe like we do, nor do they possess a human heartbeat. As an added bonus, invertebrates are notoriously hard to kill.”

Accepting all these factors led this particular blogger (and I confess I am convinced also) to conclude that vampires are in fact butterflies.

“Vampires are gorgeous, metamorphosis is a key part of their development, and they are natural experts at camouflage and mimicry. Some butterflies have even been observed feeding on blood.

Why do they sparkle? That’s easy: Vampires, like butterflies, are covered in tiny iridescent scales.”

And thus, the sparkling that has annoyed me so, is completely feasible as another step in the evolutionary scale of these larger than life insects.

Science has solved the great riddle of poultry origins – in a manner entirely consistent with the notion of an entity creating life (so don’t worry my fundamentalist brethren).

The chicken came first.

“It had long been suspected that the egg came first but now we have the scientific proof that shows that in fact the chicken came first,’ said Dr Colin Freeman, from Sheffield University, who worked with counterparts at Warwick University.

‘The protein had been identified before and it was linked to egg formation but by examining it closely we have been able to see how it controls the process,’ he added.”

Via here.

Stick with this video. It’s worth it after the first 45 seconds.

From here.

Rating player performance in football (soccer for you Phillistines) games has always been a fairly arbitrary affair. It’s difficult, unless you’re going to count every pass, tackle and off the ball run, to get a fair measure on the contribution of players not directly involved in putting the ball into the back of the net – and what about all those build ups where a striker fails at the last hurdle?

Now, Luís Amaral, a “complex-systems engineer” at Northwestern University in Illinois, has applied social networking styled analysis to the interactions between players that lead up to shots on goal.

An avid soccer fan, Amaral wanted to measure team and player performance in a way that takes into account the complex interactions within the team and each player’s contribution. So he turned to an unlikely source: social networks. Applying the kinds of mathematical techniques used to map Facebook friends and other networks, Amaral and colleagues created software that can trace the ball’s flow from player to player. As the program follows the ball, it assigns points for precise passing and for passes that ultimately lead to a shot at the goal. Whether the shot succeeds doesn’t matter. “There’s lots of luck involved in actually getting it in,” Amaral explains. Only the ball’s flow toward the goal and each player’s role in getting it there factors into the program’s point system, which then calculates a skill index for each team and player.

The results:

When the researchers used the program to analyze data from the 2008 UEFA European Football Championship, the indices closely matched the tournament’s outcome and the overall consensus of sports reporters, coaches, and other experts who weighed in on the performances.

Cool. More info here.

Brown gold

Nathan Campbell —  March 13, 2010

Cars run on coffee now. It seems appropriate. Provided they use Robusta… biofuels have the annoying habit of robbing us of valuable sources of nourishment. But this is pretty cool. The developers of this technology have called their first cab off the rank the “carpuccino” which robbed bloggers everywhere of an obvious pun.


The car is about to undertake its maiden journey – anybody worried that this technology will take off can sit back and sip a latte – it doesn’t sound like your jalopy will be powered by your cup of Joe any time soon.

The team calculates the Carpuccino will do three miles per kilo of ground coffee – the equivalent of about 56 espressos per mile.

The journey will use about 70 kilos of ground coffee which, at supermarket prices of between £13 and £26 a kilo depending on brand and quality, will cost between £910 and £1,820, or between 25 and 50 times the £36 cost of petrol for the journey.

This is a question that needed some science applied to it. It turns out the optimal wife is 27 percent smarter than her husband. IQ tests on the first date probably come on a bit strong – but by the time you reach the altar you need to have established a pecking order. Here’s the science. Here’s the CNET report.

The highlights are, indeed, a joy to behold, squeeze tightly, and never, ever let go. The perfect wife is five years younger than her husband. She is from the same cultural background. And, please stare at this very carefully: she is at least 27 percent smarter than her husband. Yes, 35 percent smarter seems to be tolerable. But 12 percent smarter seems unacceptable. In an ideal world–which is the goal of every scientist–your wife should have a college degree, and you should not. At least that’s what these scientists believe.

I know your bit will already be chomped with your enthusiasm for learning these learned scientists’ methodology. Well, they interviewed 1,074 married and cohabiting couples. And they declared, “To produce our optimization model, we use the assumption of a central ‘agency’ that would coordinate the matching of couples.” Indeed.

Finding that woman might prove difficult. But if you synchronise the science with a separate mathematical model (at the end of this article) you’ll learn that the 38th woman you consider is the one.

If you interview half the potential partners then stop at the next best one – that is, the first one better than the best person you’ve already interviewed – you will marry the very best candidate about 25 per cent of the time. Once again, probability explains why. A quarter of the time, the second best partner will be in the first 50 people and the very best in the second. So 25 per cent of the time, the rule “stop at the next best one” will see you marrying the best candidate. Much of the rest of the time, you will end up marrying the 100th person, who has a 1 in 100 chance of being the worst, but hey, this is probability, not certainty.

You can do even better than 25 per cent, however. John Gilbert and Frederick Mosteller of Harvard University proved that you could raise your odds to 37 per cent by interviewing 37 people then stopping at the next best. The number 37 comes from dividing 100 by e, the base of the natural logarithms, which is roughly equal to 2.72. Gilbert and Mosteller’s law works no matter how many candidates there are – you simply divide the number of options by e. So, for example, suppose you find 50 companies that offer car insurance but you have no idea whether the next quote will be better or worse than the previous one. Should you get a quote from all 50? No, phone up 18 (50 ÷ 2.72) and go with the next quote that beats the first 18.

Hunting in Pacs

Nathan Campbell —  January 10, 2010

You’re thinking “you’ve posted so many of these games in real life things that they no longer impress me”… and you’d be right. But the team at cracked.com have taken their rendering of five classic game characters to new levels. Justifying the elements of the drawing with well thought out zoological assessments of the lifestyle of the character involved…

Here’s why Pacman should have teeth.

“Though he was a fearsome hunter, Pac-Man was also an omnivore–he fed off live prey as well as vegetation (see cherries). Therefore he probably had a set of teeth quite similar to a human’s: Longer, sharper incisors to the front, with molars to the rear. Because Pac-Man didn’t have the razor-sharp claws or other grabbing capabilities we see in most land-based predators, he probably ate most like a snake. This connection strengthens when you notice his trademark gaping maw, which allowed him to swallow prey more quickly and use his stomach to do most of the digesting. This also accounts for the unusual shape of Pac-Man: We’re only familiar with the fuller, rounder body because his handlers obviously wanted to use a sedated, well-fed creature during gameplay to help limit aggression and the potential for violence.”

On a wing and a prayer

Nathan Campbell —  December 25, 2009

We all know Santa couldn’t possibly exist because of the sheer workload involved in delivering so many presents (here’s a study)…

But apparently Angels, as we understand them – based on representations in art, and on top of Christmas Trees – are anatomically unable to fly.

Prof Roger Wotton, from University College London, found that flight would be impossible for angels portrayed with arms and bird-like feathered wings.

Even a cursory examination of the evidence in representational arts shows that angels and cherubs cannot take off and cannot use powered flight,” said Prof Wotton. “And even if they used gliding flight, they would need to be exposed to very high wind velocities at take off – such high winds that they would be blown away and have no need for wings.

I hate ten pin bowling. Fairly passionately. It’s a crappy game. Mostly because I’m terrible at it. Gutter ball after gutter ball. Maybe I should invest the $1,500 that one of these remote controlled balls costs.