Animal squawks squeaks and songs (with helium)

October 2nd, 2015

William_RamsayAlthough a considerable body of scholarly work has examined the effects of Helium (2He) on human voice production [see, for example (Helium-assisted) High note research] we are by no means the only animals to have been investigated in this respect – here is a (non-exhaustive) list of examples of other creatures who have squawked, croaked, squeaked and even sung (soprano) under the influence of 2He.

Birds: Vocal tract resonances in oscine bird sound production: evidence from birdsongs in a helium atmosphere.

Frogs: Frogs in helium: The anuran vocal sac is not a cavity resonator.

Bats: The acoustics of the vocal tract in the horseshoe bat Rhinolophus hildebrandti.

Dolphins: Dolphin whistles: a functional misnomer revealed by heliox breathing.

Monkeys: The source-filter theory of whistle-like calls in marmosets: Acoustic analysis and simulation of helium-modulated voices.

BONUS with audio: ‘Soprano singing in gibbons’  – their normal singing can be heard here, via the Silvery Gibbon Project, and their Helium Soprano voice, here, via Nature.

Note: The photo shows Sir William Ramsay KCB FRS FRSE (1852–1916) the British chemist who received the 1904 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on the ‘Noble Gases’ e.g. 2He


Biometrics via armpit odo(u)r assessment (w & w/o deodorant)

October 1st, 2015

In these days of intensified focus on accurate biometrics, the question may be asked: ‘Is it possible to ID an individual by their armpit odour – even if they use deodorant?’


Researchers Chatchawal Wongchoosuk, Mario Lutz and Teerakiat Kerdcharoen from Mahidol University, Bangkok, have made preliminary progress in this field. Their paper ‘Detection and Classification of Human Body Odor Using an Electronic Nose’ (in: Sensors, vol. 9, pp. 7234-7249) recounts the development of their E-nose which features enhanced humidity correction.

“Armpit odors of two volunteer persons were measured by an E-nose during five days using a combined hardware/software humidity correction.“

“During the experiment period, the volunteers were requested to go about their ordinary life and activities: for example, they took a shower twice a day (before going to bed and after waking up following the morning sample collection). To avoid fluctuation in odor samples, they were not allowed to have sex and/or consume alcohol. To study the effects from deodorant, the volunteers were requested to use deodorant, after taking shower in the morning, but only on the right arm.”

The results, for those who wish to open the door to the field of human body odor biometrics, were promising :

“The E-nose in conjunction with PCA [principle component analysis] method was shown to differentiate the body odors of two persons with similar life style and activities. In addition, we have found that deodorant does not effect the relative identification of these two persons. In order to extend the discrimination of human body odors beyond two persons, a number of improvements are required such as increasing sensor types that response to a variety of volatile molecules. It is hoped that the preliminary results presented in this paper will open the door to the field of human body odor biometrics.”

Podcast #31: Tilted Eiffel Tower, Green-haired Swedish Blondes

September 30th, 2015

Leaning to the left makes the Eiffel Tower seem smaller; Converting old Russian ammunition into new diamonds; A machine that you can point at someone to induce them to get confused, and shut up; How to see brain activity in a dead salmon; and The puzzle of why some blonde people in Sweden suddenly found their hair turning green— all these all turn up in this week’s Improbable Research podcast.

Click on the “Venetian blinds” icon — at the lower right corner here — to select whichever week’s episode you want to hear:

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

This week, Marc Abrahams 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, both on the new CBS web site, and on iTunes and Spotify).

Valerio Molinari joins Luxuriant Flowing Hair Club for Scientists (LFHCfS)

September 30th, 2015

Valerio Molinari has joined the Luxuriant Flowing Hair Club for Scientists (LFHCfS). He says:

I am a Chemist working in Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces (Potsdam, Germany). My dream is to synthesize a new conditioner efficient for my hair — a project still not accomplished, as you can see.

Valerio Molinari, LFHCfS
Doctoral student in chemistry
Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces
Potsdam, Germany


Three cases of discomforting hair in funny places

September 29th, 2015

Further examples of the occasional medical drawbacks of facial hair and of haircuts:

papayFacial fuzz and funny findings — Facial hair causing otalgia and oropharyngeal pain,” Francis A. Papay [pictured here], Howard L. Levine, and William A. Schiavone, Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine, vol. 56, no. 3, 1989, pp. 273-276. The authors report:

“Three patients with referred otalgia and/or oropharyngeal pain due to ectopic facial hair found in either the external auditory canal or oropharynx were treated at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Department of Otolaryngology and Communicative Disorders. In each of these patients, annoying symptoms were relieved by simple removal of the misplaced facial hair.”

Here’s illustrative detail from the study: