Tree + memory = circuitry: The race for ever shrinking circuitry has apparently headed for the trees. Researchers have found that a protein isolated from poplar trees can host silicon nanoparticles as small as 5nm across. The protein's stable and acts as an insulator, isolating each nanoparticle and allowing them to be addressed individually by an atomic force microscope tip. The authors demonstrate they can use this combination as a Set-Reset machine, a very simple logic circuit with memory. The technology has already been patented and licensed out, so maybe some day we'll be seeing a switch from sycamore to oak processes driving the next leap in computing power.
It's ok to be incompetent, as long as everyone's polite about it: Anybody who deals directly with customers has probably had some basic advice drilled into their heads: be nice to the customer, or they won't buy stuff. One thing that might not be as heavily emphasized is being nice to your fellow employees. A recent study found that customers who witness employees being uncivil to each other, "make negative generalizations about (a) others who work for the firm, (b) the firm as a whole, and (c) future encounters with the firm." The surprising thing is that customers developed these negative feelings even if the incivility was the result of someone scolding an employee for providing said customer with poor service.
Lead with the guts: How's this for a technical description of a caterpillar's preferred method of locomotion? "Visceral-Locomotory Pistoning." It's hard to tell what's going on inside a caterpillar when it's in motion, but the authors solved that by firing synchrotron radiation at it as it moved, and found that, even as the main body remained still, the animals guts swung forward, shifting its center of gravity and making the ensuing motion of the body that much easier. In essence, the authors conclude, a caterpillar acts like a loosely coupled two-body system.
The guts are all in your head, anyway: Brain scans of patients suffering from irritable bowel syndrome show a clear pattern of reduced grey matter in a variety of areas. Controls reveal a number of these reductions are probably a product of the anxiety and depression that can accompany the disorder, but a number of areas involved in cognitive function seem to consistently correlate with the disease. Cause and effect, at this point, isn't clear.
This is the sort of study that I would be happy to participate in: There's a strong genetic component to addictive behaviors, such as drug and alcohol abuse. But it also seems that there might be a genetic component to allowing your peers to lure you into the abuse. The authors set up a situation where subjects were given the opportunity to drink in the presence of an individual that was pounding them down. Those test subjects who carried a specific allele of the dopamine receptor—dopamine is a major neurotransmitter—consumed a lot more booze than their peers. The authors conclude that this variant, "may increase the risk for heavy alcohol use or abuse in the company of heavy-drinking peers."
Public health efforts could be deadly: Let's face it, nobody would be interested in going to a public pool if it weren't for the chemical treatment of the water, which keeps it disinfected. But the authors of a recent paper note that the disinfectants themselves can react with a variety of material present in the water, including, "natural humic substances plus inputs from bathers through urine, sweat, hair, skin, and consumer products including cosmetics and sunscreens." Some of these reactions, it turns out, produce toxic byproducts. The end result is that disinfected public pool water caused more DNA damage than the tap water that originally went into the pool.
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