Archive for 'News about research'

A Swiss Bombardier-Beetle Defense Against Cash Machine Crooks

Sunday, April 20th, 2014

The bombardier beetle’s violent method self-defence can now be applied to defending bank cash machines, as explained in this study be researchers at ETH in Zurich, Switzerland:

Self-defending anti-vandalism surfaces based on mechanically triggered mixing of reactants in polymer foils,” Jonas G. Halter, Nicholas H. Cohrs, Nora Hild, Daniela Paunescu, Robert N. Grass and Wendelin Jan Stark (pictured here), Journal of Materials Chemistry A, epub March 17, 2014. (Thanks to May Berenbaum for bringing this to our attention.) The authors report:

Prof_Stark_ETH_Zurich“The bombardier beetle uses attack-triggered mixing of reactants (hydrochinone, hydrogen peroxide H2O2 and enzymes as catalysts) to defend itself against predators. Using multi-layer polymer sheets with H2O2 and catalyst (MnO2) filled compartments we developed a 2D analogous bio-inspired chemical defence mechanism for anti-vandalism applications. The reactants were separated by a brittle layer that ruptures upon mechanical attack, and converts the mechanical energy trigger (usually a few Joules) into a chemical self-defence reaction involving release of steam, and optionally persistent dyes and a DNA-based marker for forensics. These surfaces effectively translate a weak mechanical trigger into an energetic chemical reaction with energy amplification of several orders of magnitude. Since the responsive materials presented here do not depend on electricity, they may provide a cost effective alternative to currently used safety systems in the public domain, automatic teller machines and protection of money transport systems.”

Here are details from the study (and here’s a press release from the university):



BONUS: Video of a bombarder beetle in action:

BONUS (related, though not in a relevantly meaningful way): The strange tale of the strange tale Bomby the Bombardier Beetle


April mini-AIR: Joints, bones, and pitted pebbles

Sunday, April 20th, 2014

The April issue of mini-AIR (our monthly e-mail newsletter just went out. (mini-AIR is a wee little supplement to the magazine). Topics include:

  • How Many Joints?
  • Ig Nobel Eurotour Thanks, and Next Year
  • Green: Thumb Injury Limerick Competition
  • Salamander 5th Toe Loss
  • and more
It also has info about upcoming events.

Mel [pictured here] says, “It’s swell.”

mini-AIR is the simplest way to keep informed about Improbable and Ig Nobel news and events.

Want to have mini-AIR e-mailed to you every month? Just add yourself to the mini-AIR list.

They trained chickens to play baseball, and then some

Sunday, April 20th, 2014

Psychologist B.F. Skinner’s operant conditioning work inspired the work of Marian Breland Bailey. Bailey’s work inspired this study:

Marian Breland Bailey: The Mouse Who Reinforced,”  John N. Marr, Arkansas Historical Quarterly. Vol. 61, No. 1 (Spring, 2002), pp. 59-79. Marr writes:

Marian and her first husband, Keller Breland, had become the most experienced and accomplished mammal, fish, reptile, and bird trainers in the world, and they did most of their work in Hot Springs, Arkansas. They were the first scientists to see that the methods used in that original pigeon project of World War II could be employed to train animals to do almost anything within the creature’s repertoire to work for and to entertain humans…

Other rooms contained chickens walking the “circus high wire” or pecking a button that caused a miniature baseball bat to hit a ball into the left field fence as the chicken ran the bases for a home run. Ducks played drums or pecked at the keys of a piano. Squirrels raised a flag up a pole to the sound of a bugle. Rabbits rode on the back of a miniature fire truck when the fire alarm rang or kissed a bunny doll until it “lit up.” Raccoons had to stuff a ball through a basket before a food light would blink. The baseball-playing chicken exhibit was also displayed in the window of a large department store in New York. The chicken’s performance was not in the least affected by the cheering of a large crowd on the sidewalk when she “hit” a home run; she would even trot back to home plate to try again when the ball was “caught” or hit foul (signified by the failure of a small light at first base to light up).

 (Thanks to investigator Mason Porter for bringing this to our attention.)

BONUS (not necessarily not related): Chicken, Chicken, Chicken

“This is quite possibly the worst paper I’ve read all year”

Saturday, April 19th, 2014

This is quite possibly the worst paper I’ve read all year,” writes Lior Pachter in his blog, Bits of DNA, proceeding to perform a detailed, methodical autopsy. He’s talking about this paper, which has been the subject of many scare-inducing news reports (with scare-inducing headlines like this one: “Even Casual Marijuana Use Causes Brain Abnormalities“):

J.M. Gilman et al.Cannabis Use Is Quantitatively Associated with Nucleus Accumbens and Amygdala Abnormalities in Young Adult Recreational Users, Neurobiology of Disease, 34 (2014), 5529–5538.

Professor Pachter, after dissecting the study, ends his essay with a tidy thought:

…I believe that scientists should be sanctioned for making public statements that directly contradict the content of their papers, as appears to be the case here. There is precedent for this.

(Thanks to investigator Ivan Oransky for bringing this to our attention.)

Here are:

  • The official press release about the study.
  • breiterThe study’s authors, and the institutions with which they are affiliated (as listed in the study):  Jodi M. Gilman1,4,5, John K. Kuster1,2,*, Sang Lee1,6,*, Myung Joo Lee1,6,*, Byoung Woo Kim1,6, Nikos Makris3,5, Andre van der Kouwe4,5, Anne J. Blood1,2,4,5,†, and Hans C. Breiter [pictured here]1,2,4,6,†
  • Those institutions  (as listed in the study): 1 Laboratory of Neuroimaging and Genetics, Department of Psychiatry, 2 Mood and Motor Control Laboratory, 3 Center for Morphometric Analysis, Department of Psychiatry, and 4 Athinoula A. Martinos Center in Biomedical Imaging, Department of Radiology, Massachusetts General Hospital, Charlestown, Massachusetts 02129, 5 Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, and 6 Warren Wright Adolescent Center, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, Illinois 06011

Here, also as listed in the study, are the “author contributions” to the study:

  • J.M.G., M.J.L., B.K., N.M., A.J.v.d.K., A.B., and H.C.B. designed research; J.M.G., J.K.K., S.L., and A.J.v.d.K. performed research; M.J.L., B.K., A.B., and H.C.B. contributed unpublished reagents/analytic tools; J.M.G., J.K.K., S.L., M.J.L., N.M., A.B., and H.C.B. analyzed data; J.M.G., A.B., and H.C.B. wrote the paper.
  •  *J.K.K., S.L., and M.J.L. contributed equally to this work.
  •  †A.J.B. and H.C.B. contributed equally to this work.

BONUS: Description of a talk by Dr. Breiter1,2,4,6,† (the anchor editor of the cannabis study), with a modestly extensive biography of Dr. Breiter, highlighting a few of Dr. Breiter’s many accomplishments.

BONUS (Apri. 22, 2014): “How a Marijuana Study Can Poke Holes in Your Brain“, by Jason Koebler, in Motehrboard.


The tomatoic under-arm odour of J.C.M. Stewart

Saturday, April 19th, 2014

J.C.M. Stewart conveys an unusual kind of information in this medical paper:

Tomatoes cause under-arm odour,” J.C.M. Stewart, Medical Hypotheses, vol. 82 (2014) pp. 518–521. (Thanks to Jean-François Sauvé for bringing this to our attention.) The author, in Downpatrick, Co Down, Northern Ireland, explains:

“I was more than usually aware of my AO [armpit odor] one hot summer seven years ago when colleagues became restless and routinely opened windows in my presence. Nothing was ever said of course but this happened so regularly that there was no doubt about it, I eventually realised: I was the centre of a perfect pong. This is embarrassing and totally unacceptable to anyone working in a professional capacity. Yet a scrupulously cleansing shower each morning did not eliminate the problem. It happened I did not use deodorants or anti antiperspirants so the AO was not artificially suppressed.”