Yawn!

As midterms approach I’ve found myself incredibly restless and yawning every so often, probably as do all of my peers and classmates. Sometimes I’d even yawn to the sight of others yawning, but is yawning really contagious? I’d like to believe so because even when I’m caffeinated I yawn when my friends do! But first, where does it even come from? As humans, scientists have proved that we started yawning since we were a fetus in our second trimester. Although not exactly sure where this phenomenon came about, it’s believed to be connected with proper brain development.

 

Yawning has been thought of as a subconscious act to make us feel less tired by drawing large amounts of oxygen to increase blood pressure and heart rates thus improving our alertness and motor function. This has been proven not to make us feel less tired but rather it is a way of physiologically cooling our brains. Our brains induces more heat as we grow more exhausted, which explains why we yawn when we are so tired. Researchers have tested this theory by experimenting with warm and cold packs and placing it on the participants’ forehead. Results show that those with the warm packs are more likely to yawn compared to those with the cold packs.

 

So how does that explain contagious yawning? Well some scientists like to refer to it as “social yawning”. Social yawning is a sign of mimicry and empathy and begins around the age of 4-5 years old. Just like how many laugh and cry along with others, the same holds true for yawning. Mirror neurons are also another reason as to why we yawn when others do – these neurons are activated when we perform, view, or hear about an action. We are also more likely to mimic the yawns of those that are socially or genetically closer to us.

 

 

Source: http://www.livescience.com/39862-why-do-we-yawn.html

The Brain Initiative: Restoring our soldiers’ memory

With all the advances in technology today, scientists still struggle in fully understanding the potential and capabilities of the human brain. About seven months ago, President Obama announced a plan for the further investigation and exploration of the brain. This movement, also known as the Brain Initiative, will allow scientists to develop tools to help them study individual brain circuits and to map the nervous system. The main goal however, and a crucial part of this movement is the restoration of lost memory in war veterans.

Brain Initiative Better

The Defense Advanced Projects Agency (DARPA) is the agency that is helping to put this plan into action. They plan on finding treatments for brain disorders affecting soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. These brain disorders will include PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder. DARPA seeks to help restore any memory loss soldiers have had related to PTSD. DARPA hopes to achieve this goal by using implanted devices that take over and control functions of the region of the brain responsible for memory, the hippocampus. Tests of this device have already been done on rodents and the plan is to move to humans in due time.

The National Institutes of Health plans to invest $40 million in the Brain Initiative in the next year. Although finding treatments for brain disorders is definitely a goal of the Brain Initiative, Dr. Tom Insel, the director of the National Institute of Mental Health, wants everyone to remember that the immediate goal of this movement is to understand the inner workings of the most complex system in the universe, the human brain.

By Amanda Okpoebo

Source: http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2013/11/15/245390128/federal-brain-science– project-aims-to-restore-soldiers-memory

Hey how’s the weather…on SATURN!?

Thought that Earth was the only planet that can experience weather patterns? Well guess again! This year, scientists from NASA discovered what appeared to be a massive hurricane taking place on the planet Saturn. Using the spacecraft known as Cassini, scientists acquired a close-up view of the storm that took place around Saturn’s north pole. The eye of this hurricane was about 1,250 miles wide which is 20 times larger than the average hurricane on Earth!

Imagine if a hurricane of this magnitude occurred on Earth? A hurricane of this size would cause destruction of epic proportions.Saturn Hurrican

saturn

 

 

 

 

Pictured above to the right is the actual hurricane scientists witnessed on Saturn.

Scientists were able to conclude that this hurricane traveled at 330 miles per hour. Scientists were also very appalled at how such a massive storm could survive on such small amounts of water vapor in Saturn’s hydrogen atmosphere. Scientists at NASA have been studying this hurricane, even long after it ended. They hope to use this hurricane to gain insight into hurricanes on Earth, which feed off warm ocean water. Figuring out how storms on Saturn could use water vapor may help scientists to understand more about how terrestrial hurricanes are created and sustained.

By Amanda Okpoebo

Source: http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2013/29apr_saturnhurricane/

Staying Dry Under Water!

Ever seen Pirates of the Carribean? Captain Jack Sparrow and William Turner manage to sink a boat under the water, maintaining the air bubble inside, and breathing! piratesunderwater

But is this really possible??

Technically, it is possible! Here is a very easy, very quick experiment to do in your own kitchen or bathroom that shows why they can breathe the air trapped in the boat:
1) Fill a bucket or your bath tub with water about one foot deep. (Or as deep as your tallest cup)

2) Take a cup, preferably a clear glass, and tape a little piece of paper inside the cup, at the very bottom. (see the picture below)

3) Turn your cup upside-down, make sure no paper is sticking out of the opening (keep it all inside the cup, as in the picture below)

4) Make sure you keep the cup completely upside-down! Do not tilt it at all, especially in the water. (Just like the picture below)

picture007

5) Keeping the cup perfectly upside-down, slowly lower it into the bucket or your bath tub. Put the cup under the water’s surface, you should feel the cup trying to push back up a little bit…slowly bring the cup STRAIGHT up out of the water, keeping it upside-down still! (Remember, no tilting the cup…)

6) Dry the cup off, then flip it over and look inside…the paper taped in the bottom should still be dry!!

7) For fun, try putting them cup upside-down into the water, then tilting the cup to the side slowly (just a little bit), water will rush in this time since you tilted it, and the paper will get wet.

Why does this happen? When you tip the cup upside down and insert it into the water, the pressure is evenly distributed inside the cup, and water cannot rush in, keeping the paper dry. If you tilt the cup, water rushes in and gets the paper wet. In Pirates of the Carribean, the boat is much too heavy to bring down to the bottom…think about how the cup exerts a buoyant force on your hand even when you push it down a few inches. The weight required to get a boat to sink while upside-down would be far greater than just the weight of Will Turner and Jack Sparrow, but in theory it could be done if you used weights, or a lot of people. Since the air is in the boat there would be a limited supply of oxygen, so you could breathe, but not for long.

-Steve Yu

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Wooly Mammoth Back From the Dead?!

The woolly mammoth once roamed the earth — and surprisingly not too long ago!  While most of these giant creatures died out about 10,000 years ago, a small population survived on Wrangel Island until around 3600 years ago. To put that in perspective, King Hammurabi of Babylon died 100 years before the extinction of the woolly mammoths, and the Pyramids of Giza were built 1000 years before. Scientists have discovered preserved mammoth carcasses, and have been able to extract fragments of their DNA. Now scientists question whether or not it is possible to clone a mammoth.woolymammoth

The process of cloning involves extracting the DNA of the desired organism and fusing the genome to an egg cell’s nucleus. The cells are then used to create an artificial embryo that is then inserted into a host mother of the same species (or similar species), where the clone can grow. Though there are no female woolly mammoths available to carry a child, scientists predict that the Asian elephant may be a close enough relative.

The technology for cloning has been around for several years. In 1996, scientists successfully cloned the first mammal: Dolly the sheep. The problem with resurrecting this species is a lack of complete DNA. One way to sidestep this problem would be to see if it is possible to reconstruct a complete genome from the fragments. Any missing information could be substituted with the DNA of an Asian elephant.

It’s amazing to think of all the advancements we’ve made in science. If you could bring back any animal from extinction, what would it be?

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By: Luyan Lin

Work Cited:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-23602142

http://io9.com/5896262/the-last-mammoths-died-out-just-3600-years-agobut-they-should-have-survived

http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/tech/cloning/whatiscloning/

Morality Linked to Neuroscience

Here’s a scenario for you: there is a train track and on one track there are 5 men. You see a train coming towards the 5 men and the train is not stopping, but you see a lever. If you pull this lever, these 5 men will be saved, but once you pull this lever, the train will be diverted to another track where there is one man. Would you pull the lever to save 5 men and kill that 1 person? Universally, people answered this question with a yes.

Here’s another scenario: there is that same train track and the 5 men are still there, but now you are on a bridge. You have a large man next to you and you realize you can stop this train by pushing this man. Would you do it? Universally 9/10 people said no. Why is that? Mathematically it’s the same thing. According to Marc Hauser, a professor at Harvard University, he asked people why is this? Most people did not know how to answer that, but scientists have found that your response may be scientifically linked.

The human brain has many nerves and you have a calculating, analytical part of the brain. When you answer no, a different part of the brain lights up compared to when you say yes to that question. There is a battle between these two parts of the brain, your analytical sector and your emotional sector, and your answer will depend on which part wins. Morality is decided this way. What side wins, your emotions and morals or your reasoning? This varies from person to person.

20100329160959-1Is basic human morality invented or is it inherited? Human morality can be embedded in the human brain. Our brains have evolved to have these morals.  These questions are uncomfortable and either answer can be disputed. Morality is undefined because there is no easy answer. There is never a win-win case in these scenarios about doing something for the greater good. Morality is a part of our human makeup in our brains. It can be learned through the years, but our “gut instincts” can be traced back far beyond our lives.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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By: Amanda Ng

Source: http://www.wnyc.org/radio/#/ondemand/9150

Image Source: http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2010/moral-control-0330.html

Scientific Turkey Facts!

We’ve all been taught about the history of Thanksgiving and how the holiday came to be, but a lot of us might not know much about that special bird you love to eat with your stuffing and cranberry sauce. With Turkey Day just passed, why not learn more about the bird that has become the poster-child of this magnificent holiday tradition? So here are some interesting and little-known facts about turkeys!

Many people have heard that eating turkey makes you tired because it contains a chemical called tryptophan, which produces serotonin that helps us sleep. However, all types of meat contain tryptophan at varying levels, and even cheese has higher levels of tryptophan than turkey. Therefore, you can’t blame just the turkey for making you want to hit the hay. Eating turkey in addition to large amounts of carbohydrates from stuffing, casseroles, and pies can cause fatigue, and consuming alcohol contributes to your tiredness as well!

turkey_clipart

If you’ve ever eaten wild turkey, you’d know that it contains more dark meat than a domestic turkey. This is because a turkey’s ability to fly affects the nature of its meat. Wild turkeys know how to fly, so their muscles are used more often than those of domestic turkeys, who can’t fly. Blood, which contains an oxygen-binding protein called myoglobin, rushes to muscles that are being utilized. Myoglobin is responsible for darker pigment in muscles. Since wild turkeys use their muscles more to fly, their meat contains more myoglobin than domestic turkeys, meaning their meat is darker.  This also explains why the drumsticks (legs) of domestic turkeys have darker meat—because their legs are used more often than other parts of the body!

Lastly, you may have heard that dinosaurs are ancestors of birds. Well it turns out that dinosaurs and turkeys share a common physical trait: they both have wishbones! A wishbone, also known scientifically as a furcula, is a forked bone structure between the neck and breast of a bird that connects the bird’s flying muscles. A common Thanksgiving tradition is that two people would hold either end of the turkey’s wishbone and simultaneously try to break the bone in half. Whoever gets the longer side of the bone can make a wish. Dinosaurs have this structure as well, further supporting the idea that birds evolved from dinosaurs! If you ever need a good conversation starter at Thanksgiving dinner, now you can impress your family members and share your extensive knowledge on turkeys!

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By: Kim Chittanon

Source Cited: http://www.livescience.com/7630-5-surprising-turkey-facts.html

Image Cited: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_5a9oUEeg9As/TOmYa53kqoI/AAAAAAAAAVQ/V6pBYHHDxzY/s1600/turkey_clipart.jpg