Tagged: Study

Forget curing cancer: Scientists have discovered the perfect way to break spaghetti

With all the incredible medical and technological advancements coming out of the scientific community these days you might not think that researchers would be spending time studying spaghetti, but you’d be wrong. In a new paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, MIT scientists explain how to correctly break strands of the stringy pasta in half.

If you’ve ever made spaghetti you’ll be very familiar with this particular problem: Dry spaghetti strands don’t fit perfectly in most stovetop pots. You can either drop them in at full length and let them hang over the edge as the bottom half goes soft to snap them in half, in which case you’ll end up with a bunch of smaller pasta chunks and a metric ton of tiny spaghetti fragments that aren’t good for much of anything.

Not wanting to pass up the opportunity to solve a problem, a duo of MIT researchers decided to test the mechanics that leads to dry spaghetti strands busting up into a million tiny chunks rather than two uniform halves. What they discovered is an issue that plagues many long, thin objects, and they’ve even come up with a solution.

“A well-known problem with direct implications for the fracture behavior of elongated brittle objects, such as vaulting poles or long fibers, goes back to the famous physicist Richard Feynman who observed that dry spaghetti almost always breaks into three or more pieces when exposed to large bending stresses,” the researchers write.

The fix? Add a twist to the pasta as you bend it. A twisting motion of approximately 270 degrees seems to be the sweet spot. This helps to control the stress on the object and results in a much cleaner split. “Our experimental and theoretical results demonstrate that twisting enables remarkable fracture control by using the different propagation speeds of twist and bending waves,” the team explains.

This all might sound a little silly, but the research has implications far beyond your dinner plate. The neat thing about experiments like this is that the knowledge gained can be used for other applications, and the results of the experiments can now be used as a foundation for better understanding the fracturing habits of other, slightly more important objects than spaghetti.

Black Widow spiders are spreading north to entirely new areas

One of the many side effects of climate change is the gradual shift in territories of some species. Most animals have certain temperature thresholds that they just won’t abide, but as the Earth continues to creep into higher and higher average temperatures these animals can either be pushed away or lured into new areas that were previously too hot or too cold.

In a new study, scientists now believe that black widow spiders are moving farther north than ever before thanks to more agreeable temperatures. The research, which was published in PLOS One, explains that regular sightings of black widow spiders in more northern areas has steadily picked up over the last half century or so, and the range of the potentially deadly spider has increased by over 30 miles.

To determine what the true range of the spider is, researchers compiled a wealth of data both from professional scientific observers and from citizen scientists who now have the power to contribute their discoveries to the scientific community thanks to the internet.

“In our project, the citizen science data was essential in modeling distributions of spiders,” Christopher Buddle, McGill professor and co-author of the research, explains. “People who are excited about discovering where species live can contribute in meaningful ways to scientific progress and this is exciting, important, and is changing how we do research.”

The team now believes their species distribution map to be the most accurate, and it’s quite a bit different than the previously agreed-upon range of the black widow. The northernmost range of the spider now stretches well into parts of Canada, while sightings have also come in from parts of Wisconsin, which had previously not been considered within the spider’s range.

This is of course not the first example we’ve seen of manmade climate change causing species to move into entirely new areas. Last year, scientists published a study that showed the problem isn’t even limited to animals, and that tree species are now migrating due to the rapidly-changing temperatures.

Science says there’s a good reason why humans use ‘baby talk’ on infants

You’ve probably never given a second thought to why people tend to use “baby talk” when speaking to small children. Babies are cute and so we talk in a cute voice, it’s as simple as that, right? Not quite, according to a new study from linguists at the University of Edinburgh.

The researchers conducted a long-term study to see whether or not baby talk has any actual affect on how a child learns language and discovered that, surprisingly, speaking in dumbed-down tones and sing-songy words actually seems to have a real purpose.

The study — which is somewhat humorously titled “Why ‘Choo-Choo’ is better than ‘Train’” — followed 47 infants from the ages of 9 months through 21 months. The researchers monitored how their parents spoke to the children and tallied the amount of cutesy “baby talk” phrases, such as words ending in “y” (mommy, doggy, etc) and repetitious words like the aforementioned “choo-choo.”

What the study revealed is that infants which are exposed to more of these simplistic words tend to grasp language better than those who weren’t. The researchers checked the vocabularies of the children at the start, halfway point, and then at the end of the study and found the trend to be consistent throughout.

But why is this the case? The study suggests that baby talk tends to be easier to understand for infants due to its repetitious nature. “Choo-choo” for example is a doubled-up word that is easier for developing minds to grasp, while ending many different words with the same sound such as “y” helps them identify important words and learn them quicker.

It’s somewhat strange to consider that humans have instinctually developed baby talk as a way of communicating with infants despite not knowing exactly why we’re doing it. Nobody ever teaches us to talk to babies in this way, it’s more of an impulse, but it appears to be a good one.

Can’t concentrate? Scientists say you should drink some water

Ever have one of those days where you just can’t focus on anything? If you’re crawling through your work day and your brain just doesn’t feel as sharp as it should, water might be the answer. That advice comes from a new research effort that looked at the results of 33 different studies related to mental acuity and dehydration, and there’s some very solid evidence that the two are linked.

It’s already widely known that severe dehydration causes all kinds of terrible things to happen with the human body, including both mental and physical side effects, but what’s particularly significant about this new work is that it demonstrates that even a little dehydration can cause cognition problems.

In the summer months, when the sun is baking us and the heat is sapping moisture out of our skin, mild dehydration can occur rapidly. A dehydration level of up to two percent can happen in just half an hour if you’re exercising or doing some kind of physical work in the summer heat, and that may be enough to cause your mental faculties to suffer.

This new study compiled the data from 33 other studies to draw a comprehensive picture of how dehydration can affect the human brain, and the results were striking. In one test designed as a card game, volunteers who were mildly dehydrated made 12 percent more errors than the control group who was properly hydrated. Those same volunteers performed much better after their hydration levels were brought back up to normal.

No matter what kind of a job you work, making 12 percent more mistake because your mind is fuzzy will be incredibly frustrating. If you feel like your brain isn’t running on all cylinders it might be time to down a bit of water, but exactly how much you need is still a topic of debate among medical professionals.

There’s no firm verdict on an exact amount, as it can vary greatly from person to person, but the color of your urine is usually a reliable indicator. Generally speaking, the lighter colored your pee is the better hydrated you are. You don’t necessarily need to strive for crystal clear urine, and a stream with just a hint of yellow usually means you’re drinking enough water.

Eating dinner earlier could lower your risk of cancer, but scientists don’t know why

You already know a number of things that can reduce your chances of getting various types of cancer. Avoiding tobacco products is a biggie, as is taking care of your skin when it’s in the sun, but have you ever considered your choice of dinner time as a contributing factor to your risk of cancer? Probably not, but new research suggests that you might want to consider it.

A new study published in the International Journal of Cancer draws some very interesting links between the time of the evening that a person eats their dinner and their overall risk of developing certain types of cancers, including breast and prostate cancer, which are two of the largest killers of men and women.

“Modern life involves mistimed sleeping and eating patterns that in experimental studies are associated with adverse health effects,” the researchers explain. “We assessed whether timing of meals is associated with breast and prostate cancer risk taking into account lifestyle and chronotype, a characteristic correlating with preference for morning or evening activity.”

The core of the research focuses on how long before bedtime a person eats their last meal of the day. Individuals who eat before 9 p.m. or eat at least a couple of hours before hitting the sack dramatically lower their risk of developing cancer. The scientists estimate that these individuals enjoy a 20% drop in cancer risk when compared to those who eat dinner after 10 p.m. or eat right before climbing into bed.

The researchers followed the habits of thousands of individuals and tracked their nighttime eating habits and whether or not they developed cancer over the long term. The numbers seem to point towards early dinners being a very beneficial thing if you’re hoping to avoid some of the more common types of cancer, but the scientists still don’t know exactly why that’s true. At the moment they believe circadian rhythm, which is the patterns of daily activity and sleep that humans have established over hundreds of thousands of years, is playing a role, though they can’t say exactly how.