Science & Technology


Number Of Fat Cells Remains Constant From Teenhood In All Body Types

The radioactive carbon-14 produced by above-ground nuclear testing in the 1950s and '60s has helped researchers determine that the number of fat cells in a human's body, whether lean or obese, is established during the teenage years. Changes in fat mass in adulthood can be attributed mainly to changes in fat cell volume, not an increase in the actual number of fat cells.

Cloud Lightning

Hot-air Balloon Research May Improve Tornado Predictions

Three hot-air balloons dropped asphalt shingles, lumber, sticks, leaves and pine needles onto a north Alabama landfill, so scientists at The University of Alabama in Huntsville could gather data needed to improve tornado warnings.

©Mariana Felix
UA Huntsville graduate students and staff attach a bundle of asphalt shingles to Randy Sedlak's balloon as part of an experiment to help scientists improve tornado forecasting.

The payloads dropped by the balloons were similar to the types of debris thrown into the air by tornados that touch the ground. Scientists at UAHuntsville's Earth System Science Center hope the Doppler radar data collected will be a first step toward programming National Weather Service Doppler radar to recognize tornado debris, so more timely and precise tornado warnings might be issued.


Gene Linked To Alcohol And Cocaine Dependence

Previous family-based research had linked a broad region on chromosome 4q with alcohol dependence (AD). A new study has found that nine of the single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) -- DNA sequence variations -- in the 3' region of the tachykinin receptor 3 gene (TACR3), located within chromosome 4q, have a significant association with AD, particularly those with more severe AD, and co-existing cocaine dependence.

"We believe it is important to identify genes contributing to AD for two primary reasons," said Tatiana M. Foroud, director of the division of hereditary genomics at the Indiana University School of Medicine and first author of the study.

"First, better treatments can be developed which would improve the success rate for those wishing to end their AD," she said. "Second, being able to identify those at greater risk for AD at a young age would allow interventions to be initiated earlier, potentially reducing the likelihood that the individual will become AD."


Genetics Confirm Oral Traditions Of Druze In Israel

DNA analysis of residents of Druze villages in Israel suggests these ancient religious communities offer a genetic snapshot of the Near East as it was several thousands of years ago.

The Druze harbor a remarkable diversity of mitochondrial DNA types or lineages that appear to have separated from each other many thousands of years ago, according to a new study by multinational team, led by researchers at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology Rappaport School of Medicine.

But instead of dispersing throughout the world after their separation, the full range of lineages can still be found within the small, tightly knit Druze population.

Technion researcher Karl Skorecki noted that the findings are consistent with Druze oral tradition suggesting the adherents came from diverse ancestral lineages "stretching back tens of thousands of years." The Druze represent a "genetic sanctuary" or "living relic" that provides a glimpse of the genetic diversity of the Near East in antiquity, the researchers write in the May 7th issue of the journal PLoS ONE.


Female Concave-eared Frogs Draw Mates With Ultrasonic Calls

Most female frogs don't call; most lack or have only rudimentary vocal cords. A typical female selects a mate from a chorus of males and then --silently -- signals her beau. But the female concave-eared torrent frog, Odorrana tormota, has a more direct method of declaring her interest: She emits a high-pitched chirp that to the human ear sounds like that of a bird.

O. tormota
©Albert Feng
O. tormota lives in a noisy environment on the brushy edge of streams in the Huangshan Hot Springs, in central China, where waterfalls and rushing water provide a constant din.


Neil Young gets new honor -- his own spider

Iconic singer and songwriter Neil Young has had an honor bestowed upon him that is not received by many musicians -- his own spider.

An East Carolina University biologist, Jason Bond, discovered a new species of trapdoor spider and opted to call the arachnid after his favorite musician, Canadian Neil Young, naming it Myrmekiaphila neilyoungi.

Nel Young
©REUTERS/Johannes Eisele
Singer and director Neil Young poses during a photocall to present his Film "Deja Vu" in Berlin February 8, 2008.

"There are rather strict rules about how you name new species," Bond said in a statement.

"As long as these rules are followed you can give a new species just about any name you please. With regards to Neil Young, I really enjoy his music and have had a great appreciation of him as an activist for peace and justice."


'Wall Paper Peeling Mystery' Explained By Physicists

When you try to remove adhesive paper from a surface, you inevitably get a pointy flap, while what you want is to remove the entire piece. A team from the Laboratoire de physique et mécanique des milieux hétérogènes (CNRS/ESPCI/Universités Paris 6 and 7), collaborating with the University of Santiago in Chile and with MIT, has explained the physics behind this frustrating experience. The work is published in Nature Materials, and could be used in testing the mechanical properties of very fine adhesive film used in industry.

©E.Hamm, USACH
System used in controlled tear experiments: the tab is pulled at constant speed and the experiment is performed with films with different adhesive and mechanical properties.


Five science fiction movies that get the science right

Recently we praised the latest sci-fi blockbuster Iron Man for including so many real-world technologies.

It makes a change, since all too often Hollywood's use of science involves shocking blunders: including spaceships making whooshing noises in Star Wars to the journey to the centre of the Earth in The Core.

So, to give credit where it's due, we have picked out five more sci-fi films that go against the grain, and contain some accurate, plausible science. They may not be completely realistic, but they get it right when it matters most.

Be warned: this article inevitably contains a number of spoilers.


Solar Images Show Green And Blue Flashes

solar image
©Stéphane Guisard (ESO)
Green flash at top of solar image

Cerro Paranal, home of ESO's Very Large Telescope, is certainly one of the best astronomical sites on the planet. Stunning images, obtained by ESO staff at Paranal, of the green and blue flashes, as well as of the so-called 'Gegenschein', are real cases in point.


Astronomers begin search for 'vanishing' stars

Astronomers have started monitoring about a million massive stars to see if any suddenly vanish, seemingly without a trace. Such a disappearing act would support a theory that some massive stars simply implode when they die, rather than exploding in brilliant supernovae or gamma-ray bursts.

As a massive star ages, it accumulates iron in its core. Eventually, this iron core grows so massive that it is crushed by its own gravity, forming a black hole.