Category Archives: Fun!

Brain Structures May Predict Political Views

With the Canadian election race in full swing,  some people know exactly who they are going to vote for, and others are unsure. Each of us have our own biases and opinions about the big issues like healthcare, defense, and the economy.

Picture from Google Images

A group of scientists from the University College London just published a study in Current Biology that may show why “liberals are open to new experiences and can cope with conflicting information,” and why “conservatives are more sensitive to threat or anxiety in the face of uncertainty. ” (Quotes from

The team of researchers looked at the different sizes of these two structures called the anterior cingulate cortex and the amygdala (click the name to find out more information about each structure from Wikipedia). This team suspected that there might be a structural difference in the brain that accounts for these differences. And this is indeed what they found. People with larger anterior cingulate cortexes tended to have more liberal views. Whereas people with larger amygdalas tended to have conservative views.

But there is not enough evidence to conclude that only these structures account for the political differences. There were too many uncontrollable factors to take into account, such as life experience, family history, also what kind of environment the subject was raised in. And people also have the ability to change their views over time.

Ryota Kanai of the University College London concluded in the article that “It’s very unlikely that actual political orientation is directly encoded in these brain regions,” and “more work is needed to determine how these brain structures mediate the formation of political attitude.”

Side note:

Picture from Google Images

Vote Compass is a free online survey where just click the answers that are closest to your opinions and it will tell you which political party you are closest to. I think it’s pretty cool, to check it out click on Vote Compass to go there now.


Predator Computer Program Tracks Human Face Better than You

Now that the class has finished their interviews and has begun to assemble their footage, depending on how they conducted their interview it’s likely that some surprises may appear in the editing room. I know from personal experience now that it is difficult being a professional cinematographer. Fitting the subject into the frame of the shot just right and following their movement is not as easy as one would think.

But what if you had a camera that could do all this by itself and you merely had to press record? Zdenek Kalal, a PhD student at the University of Surrey in England, has just finished research that could make this a reality. He has developed a real time tracking program that unlike previous visual identification systems learns over time. That is, it can learn what the subject in question looks like at various angles and distances and actually gets more accurate over time. Affectionately named Predator, it promises to be the next generation of visual recognition technology.

The below video from the creator Mr. Kalal himself shows the program in action and provides an excellent introduction to the technology. Incidentally he also provides a fine example of how to effectively present research to the public.

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As Mr. Kalal explains, the possible uses for the device go beyond simple facial recognition, although in the context of this class that would certainly be the most welcome. How simple would it be to tell Predator what to focus on, and then let a motorized camera automatically track your subject while you are free to carry out the interview unencumbered. Even in the context of large studio films I would not be surprised to learn that directors are eager to experiment with it. In the realm of science there are also several possibilities. The example noted in the video centres around animal research. The use visual recognition software could revolutionalize the field of wildlife biology. Studies of much larger scale could be completed by using cameras mounted in strategic locations, rather than relying on scientists heading out into the field to do manual observations.

Here is a link to the original press release from the University of Surrey, whose creation  process is yet another area of science that we are now familiar with thanks to Science 300.

Diamonds are the cure to cancer???

Source:Chemical and Engineering News

Cancer treatment research is ever evolving and according to an article in Voice of America it seems like nanodiamonds maybe the result of all this new research. Nanodiamonds are tiny particles of carbon that are just a couple of nanometers in size and there are hopes that they will make cancer drugs more effective and decrease the use of chemotherapy.

According to Dean Ho at the Northwestern University, nanodiamonds attract water which allows it to bind to anti-cancer drugs. This is a very important property because generally tumors reject the drugs, but when they are attached to nanodiamonds they do not. In fact, they were better able to retain the drug for a longer period of time. Based on the studies conducted on mice, the use of nanodiamonds has shown to be more effective with fewer side effects. They were also able to administer the drugs at an elevated level without causing any harm to the mice while successfully reducing the tumors to their smallest size.

However, nanodiamonds are not just restricted to the use of cancer treatment. It can be used in other areas of medicine. For example, Dean Ho and his team found it very useful when used in conjunction with therapeutic drugs such as insulin which is used in wound-healing applications.

A lot more studies need to be done before this test can be tested on humans, but the fact that these nanodiamonds are made from the “byproducts of industrial explosions such as mining” means this technology will not cost much more than regular cancer treatment, which will come as good news for future society.

Check this out!
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E-Defense Simulates Major Earthquakes – When and Where does the Building Begin Collapsing in an Earthquake?

E-Defense is a 3D full-scale earthquake testing facility that simulates seismic activity on actual-size buildings. This facility is built by the National research Institute for Earth science and Disaster prevent (NIED) and has the world’s largest shaking table. It can hold a real concrete building and has 24 large cylinders with a diameter of more than 2 meters, which can simulate almost all kinds of earthquakes of any magnitude. Researchers can put actual-sized wooden buildings or oil tanks onto the table and observe to what extent does the structure stand against the quakes.

Over the years, researchers can only observe what a building looks like before and after the quakes to determine and strength of the building. In other words, there is no way that one can observe the destruction of a building directly. Therefore, NIED built the E-Defense. This facility is capable of letting a life-size four storey concrete building (about 1200 tons) to experience seismic activity directly.

The core of E-Defense is a huge and powerful shaking table. With a loading capacity of 1200 tons, it is considered to be the largest of the same facility type in the world. The E-Defense can move up to 50 cm vertically and 100 cm horizontally. It can also create a vertical acceleration of 1.5 G and a horizontal acceleration of 0.9 G. This shakes the 1200 ton building in three directions and is the first facility in the world to have such capability.

Although the collapsing of buildings can be easily simulated by using a few computers, Japanese scientists think that actually observing the process of destruction is much more reliable. There are also many similar facilities around the world, but they use scale models to do the simulation. The materials used for the models do not completely resemble that of a real building, so the accuracy of the results is uncertain. Also, E-Defense is the only one that can shake up and down, back and forth, and left and right. Thus, NIED figure that it is necessary to build the new facility.

Located on the Pacific Rim of Fire, Japan has a strict construction code for earthquake endurance. The E-Defense contributes greatly in understanding the quality and strength of concrete pillars and walls. Thus, shock resistance of buildings rises greatly and more lives can be saved.

Are we headed towards extinction?

Is it true? Although it is highly debated, our current understanding of science shows that we are facing the next  mass extinction event of the Earth. Many palaeontologists agree that the dinosaurs went extinct at the end of the Cretaceous period 65 million years ago. This mass extinction event called the Cretaceous-Tertiary (KT) Extinction wiped out more than 50% of all species on the planet.

The KT Extinction was caused by a giant asteroid of diameter greater than 10km  that hit the Yuccatan Peninsula of Mexico 65 million years ago, leaving the Chicxulub Impact Crator of more than 180 km in diameter! Initially, this impact vaporized everything close to its vicinity instantaneously, and created an enormous tsunami. A dense cloud formed of debris from the impact created a series of long term effects.  One of which was a global acidic rain phenomenon killing many plants on the surface of the land and causing over 80% of the  marine species.

The KT Extinction was the last mass extinction the Earth has had, but there had been four others beforehand: Late Ordovician, Late Denovian, Late Permian, and Late Triassic. It has been suggested that we are heading towards the 6th mass extinction with our current rate of species going extinct (for example, the Dodo bird, and the Marsupial wolf). Extinction of different types of species on our planet suggest that a smaller variance of creatures will have the ability to survive the next type of mass extinction event whether it be a flood, giant meteor or global climate change.

Marsupial Wolf

Dodo Birds From Ice Age!

In 1984, D. Raup and J. J. Sepkoski analyzed the number of asteroid extinctions during the history of Earth and concluded that there was a mass extinction event every 25 million years. This landmark paper has been cited in over 400 scholarly sources and has led the start of many theories of possible mass extinction scenarios.

So if Raup and Sepkoski’s prediction is true, and our human race faces the next mass extinction event, will we be able to survive?