Archive for 'News about research'

The ten-percenters: The hot, hot men who pinch copper

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015

For young and youngish men of a certain disposition (regarding copper), these are exciting times, as this medical report attests.

The report is: “Electrical burn injuries secondary to copper theft,” J.A. Dunne, D. J. Wilks, D.P. Mather, and J.M. Rawlins, European Journal of Trauma and Emergency Surgery, epub 2015. The authors, at St George’s Hospital, London, Leeds General Infirmary, Pinderfields Hospital, Wakefield, and Royal Perth Hospital, Perth, Australia, report:

We would like to highlight copper theft as an international cause for high voltage electrical injury, with an illustration of cases over a 5-year period from the Yorkshire regional burns unit in the United Kingdom (UK)….

Copper price has risen dramatically in recent years, with a six-fold increase over the past decade and a large demand from booming economies such as China. Metal theft is one of the fastest rising crimes in the UK…

The risk of burns in this activity is significant, and may account for up to 10% of electrical burns presenting to a regional unit…

All cases were males, aged 22, 25 and 42 years, sustaining burns of 32, 45 and 16.5 % total body surface area (TBSA), respectively. All patients survived, and there was a mean length of stay of 47 days (range 32–59) and all patients were involved in theft from 11,000 V electrical substations.

(Thanks to investigator Adrian Smith for bringing this to our attention.)

Here’s a video news report of a case of possible copper theft in a different country:

They gamely plant a secret password in the participant’s brain

Saturday, February 21st, 2015

They gamely plant a secret password in the participant’s brain, they say, in this presentation:

Neuroscience Meets Cryptography: Designing Crypto Primitives Secure Against Rubber Hose Attacks,” Hristo Bojinov [Stanford University], Daniel Sanchez and Paul Reber [Northwestern University], Dan Boneh [Stanford University], Patrick Lincoln [SRI], 21st USENIX Security Symposium, August 8-12, 2014, Bellevue, Washington. (Thanks to Bruce Schneier for bringing this to our attention.) The authors explain:

“Cryptographic systems often rely on the secrecy of cryptographic keys given to users. Many schemes, however, cannot resist coercion attacks where the user is forcibly asked by an attacker to reveal the key. These attacks, known as rubber hose cryptanalysis, are often the easiest way to defeat cryptography…. We use a carefully crafted computer game to plant a secret password in the participant’s brain without the participant having any conscious knowledge of the trained password. While the planted secret can be used for authentication, the participant cannot be coerced into revealing it since he or she has no conscious knowledge of it.”

The team discussed this at the symposium:



Dreaming of Understanding What Student Eaters Dream About

Thursday, February 19th, 2015

Inspired by Winsor McKay’s comic strip, which also inspired the old movie you see here, two researchers, who work at what they call The Dream and Nightmare Laboratory in Montreal, asked students about their dreams and their eating habits.

The resulting study is:

Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend: food and diet as instigators of bizarre and disturbing dreams,” Tore Nielsen and Russell A. Powell, Frontiers in Psychology, epub February 17, 2015. (Thanks to Neil Martin for bringing this to our attention.) The authors, at the Université de Montreal, Montreal, and Grant McEwan University, Edmonton, Canada, explain:

“In the early 1900s, the Dream of the Rarebit Fiend comic strip conveyed how the spicy cheese dish Welsh rarebit leads to bizarre and disturbing dreams. Today, the perception that foods disturb dreaming persists. But apart from case studies, some exploratory surveys, and a few lab studies on how hunger affects dreaming, there is little empirical evidence addressing this topic. The present study examines three aspects of the food/dreaming relationship; it attempts to: (1) assess the prevalence of the perception of food-dependent dreaming and the types of foods most commonly blamed; (2) determine if perceived food-dependent dreaming is associated with dietary, sleep or motivational factors; and (3) explore whether these factors, independent of food/dreaming perceptions, are associated with reports of vivid and disturbing dreams. Three hundred and ninety six students completed questionnaires evaluating sleep, dreams, and dietary habits and motivations.”

Bold experiments in human-sourced probiotics

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015

Two recent, imaginative, slimy experiments are advancing our knowledge of how to use bacteria to make possibly-healthgiving foods.

The newest is reported by Janet Jay, writing in Motherboard:

How to Make Breakfast With Your Vagina

westbrook-cecelia… Cecilia Westbrook [pictured here] is a friend of mine, and an MD/PhD student at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. We had joked before about making yogurt from vaginal secretions…. Curiosity piqued, Westbrook began to research in earnest. What choice did she have but to try it herself?

Every vagina is home to hundreds of different types of bacteria and organisms. These organisms—collectively known as the vaginal community—produce lactic acid, hydrogen peroxide, and other substances that keep the vagina healthy. The dominant bacteria is called lactobacillus, which also happens to be what people sometimes use to culture milk, cheese, and yogurt….

A slightly earlier experiment, in Spain, resulted in the awarding of the 2014 Ig Nobel Prize for nutrition to Raquel Rubio, Anna Jofré, Belén Martín, Teresa Aymerich, and Margarita Garriga, for their study titled “Characterization of Lactic Acid Bacteria Isolated from Infant Faeces as Potential Probiotic Starter Cultures for Fermented Sausages.” They published details of their experiment, in the journal Food Microbiology, vol. 38, 2014, pp. 303-311.

Cosmologists and their metaphors: Follicly-Challenged Stars

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015

People who theorize about the physics of the cosmos looooove, some of them, to come up with metaphors that extend the metaphors that other cosmologists came up with. This new paper shows how that’s done:

Physiciist Simon Morris, who noticed the subtle extension of tthe lack-of-hair-metaphor

Physicist Simon Morris, who noticed the subtle extension of the lack-of-hair metaphor

Relating Follicly-Challenged Compact Stars to Bald Black Holes,” Kent Yagi and Nicolas Yunes, arXiv:1502.04131, February 13, 2015. (Thanks to Simon Morris [pictured here] for bringing this to our attention.) The authors, at Montana State University, explain:

“Astrophysical black holes are said to have no hair because their exterior gravitational field can be completely described by only two observable quantities: their mass and their spin angular momentum. All other information or hair that may have led to the formation of the black hole is hidden inside its event horizon…. The nonapplicability of the no-hair theorem extends, in principle, to all stars, including compact ones, such as neutron stars and strange quark stars. There is therefore no reason to expect stars to be bald, i.e. for their exterior gravitational field to be independent of their internal structure…. [The] inter-relations between multipole moments correspond to compact star no-hair relations if and only if they are independent of the compact star’s internal structure, or more specifically, independent of its equation of state…. Thus, we say that compact stars are approximately bald or follicly challenged.”