Archive for 'News about research'

Head butting in whales – explanations for junk

Friday, February 5th, 2016

“The immense forehead of sperm whales is possibly the largest, and one of the strangest, anatomical structures in the animal kingdom.“

Leading to the question: ‘What’s it for?’ Herman Melville’s famous novel Moby-Dick suggested that one purpose might be for large-scale head-butting, the practicalities of which are reviewed in a new paper for PeerJ PrePrints, entitled :‘Architecture of the sperm whale forehead facilitates ramming combat’ The authors note, regarding the forehead, that :

“It contains two large oil-filled compartments, known as the ‘spermaceti organ’ and ‘junk’, that constitute up to one-quarter of body mass and extend one-third of the total length of the whale.” [see illustration]

WhaleHeadJunkPerhaps, they reason, ‘the junk’ might serve as a kind of macro shock-absorber. And so, to examine their battering-ram hypothesis, they performed Finite Element Analysis (FEA) on a junk-equipped computer model whale head.

“We explore the aggressive ramming hypothesis using a novel combination of structural engineering principles and probabilistic simulation to determine if the unique structure of the junk significantly reduces stress in the skull during quasi-static impact. Our analyses indicate that the connective tissue partitions within the junk reduce stress across the skull during impact; stress reduction is greatest in the anterior aspect of the skull; and removal of the connective tissue partitions increases stress concentrations on the tip of the skull, possibly making it prone to fracture. Although the unique structure of the junk certainly serves multiple functions, our results are consistent with the hypothesis that the structure also evolved to function as a massive battering ram during male-male competition.”

Also see (animalian shock-absorber related) : The 2006 Ig Nobel prize for Ornithology was awarded to Ivan R. Schwab, of the University of California Davis, and the late Philip R.A. May of the University of California Los Angeles, for exploring and explaining why woodpeckers don’t get headaches.



Chemical Sensors Attractively at One’s Fingertips

Thursday, February 4th, 2016

Chemists, some of them, do pay attention to their fingernails. A team at the University of California, La Jolla (an institution that seems to exist on April 1, when it apparently migrates from San Diego), has paid special attention. Details are in their study:

A Wearable Fingernail Chemical Sensing Platform: pH Sensing at Your Fingertips,” Jayoung Kim, Thomas N. Cho, Gabriela Valdés-Ramírez, Joseph Wang, Talanta, vol. 150, April 1, 2016, pp. 622–628. The authors explain:

“Here we introduce the first demonstration of a wearable fingernail chemical-sensor platform. The objective of this work is to demonstrate the first example of a wearable chemical sensor on a fingernail platform. Fingernails represent an attractive wearable platform, offering portability and possibility to merge technology with beauty and fashion products, thus reflecting growing trends toward more stylish wearable devices. While several efforts have been made on developing fingernail-based sensors, none has been developed for chemical sensing.”

Here’s further detail from the study:


BONUS (by some of the same researchers): Tattoo-Based Noninvasive Glucose Monitoring: A Proof-of-Concept Study

‘Social jetlag’ between dogs and humans across Europe

Thursday, February 4th, 2016

“People choosing a pet have a number of factors to consider. The important one is whether a pet can synchronize with humans in sleep timing.“

Goblin-Dog– explain a pan-European [Germany | Poland | Spain] research team in a 2015 paper for the scholarly journal Time & Society. The investigators reasoned that pet dogs and their keepers in different countries might have differently synchronised biorhythms – featuring what’s called ‘Social Jetlag’ (as defined by Wittmann et alii in 2006 ‘Social jetlag: misalignment of biological and social time.’)


“Participants living with dogs informed about their own and their dogs’ sleep habits. This study demonstrates synchrony in sleep timing between humans and dogs living together. Dogs experienced less social jetlag than their owners and differences between owners and dogs were more pronounced in Poland than in Germany and Spain. Polish dogs had the lowest social jetlag amongst dogs from the three countries, suggesting a greater stability of their sleep–wake cycle and less influence of the owners’ activity on their rhythm. Chronotype of dogs was earlier than that of their owners in all countries. Spanish dogs had the latest sleep pattern, followed by German dogs, with Polish dogs being the earliest. Analyses also revealed that both chronotype and social jetlag in dogs and humans living together are correlated – the later the chronotype of the owner the later the chronotype of his/her dog. The results suggest that dogs synchronize to humans in their sleep patterns.“

Reference:Synchrony in chronotype and social jetlag between dogs and humans across Europe’

Also see:Horses and the effects of flying’

Photo: The image depicts a dog called ‘Goblin’ who was, in 1909, a Toy Trawler Spaniel.


Artificial Lion-Roaring Contests [Podcast 49]

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2016

Artificial lion-roaring contests overwhelm this week’s Improbable Research podcast.

SUBSCRIBE on, iTunes, or Spotify to get a new episode every week, free.

This week, Marc Abrahams  —with dramatic readings by Jean Berko Gleason — tells about:

The mysterious John Schedler or the shadowy Bruce Petschek perhaps did the sound engineering this week.

The Improbable Research podcast is all about research that makes people LAUGH, then THINK — real research, about anything and everything, from everywhere —research that may be good or bad, important or trivial, valuable or worthless. CBS distributes it, on the CBS web site, and on iTunes and Spotify).

“Imagine if the window were made of ants…”

Sunday, January 31st, 2016

Ig Nobel Prize winner David Hu researches many questions that involve biology AND mathematics AND physics. And often, fluid dynamics. In this video, he confides, concisely, some of the biophysical ways that ants survive perilous, quickly-changing physical conditions:

The 2015 Ig Nobel Prize for physics was awarded to Patricia Yang [USA and TAIWAN], David Hu [USA and TAIWAN], and Jonathan Pham, Jerome Choo [USA], for testing the biological principle that nearly all mammals empty their bladders in about 21 seconds (plus or minus 13 seconds).

REFERENCE: “Duration of Urination Does Not Change With Body Size,” Patricia J. Yang, Jonathan Pham, Jerome Choo, and David L. Hu, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 111 no. 33, August 19, 2014, pp. 11932–11937.

NOTE: David Hu will be one of the stars of the London shows on the upcoming Ig Nobel Eurotour, in March 2016.

(Thanks to Maggie Lettvin for alerting us to the video.)