We tend to see gesticulation as a behavioral quirk, but research shows these hand movements actually assist our mental processes.
A study published last year found that people were better able to explain math problems and simultaneously remember a string of letters if they were allowed to gesture meaningfully as they spoke [because] gesturing probably makes the math part of the task less mentally taxing by externalizing and visualizing relevant information, thereby freeing up cognitive resources for the memory challenge.
As a bonus, gesturing while you speak won’t only aid your thought processes, it likely will also help you make a good impression. Research has shown that presenters are judged as more effective and competent when they make hand gestures compared with when they keep their hands still. Like tone, volume, and pacing of your speech, gestures are another tool to punctuate what you’re saying. Gestures can also help the audience understand and remember what you said. The key thing here is to ensure your gestures are meaningfully related to what you’re saying, and not just random hand flapping."
The physics of beauty requires math. The sunflower has spirals of 21, 34, 55, 89, and - in very large sunflowers - 144 seeds. Each number is the sum of the two preceding numbers. This pattern seems to be everywhere: in pine needles and mollusk shells, in parrot beaks and spiral galaxies. After the fourteenth number, every number divided by the next highest number results in a sum that is the length-to-width ratio of what we call the golden mean, the basis for the Egyptian pyramids and the Greek Parthenon, for much of our art and even our music. In our own spiral-shaped inner ear’s cochlea, musical notes vibrate at a similar ratio.
The patterns of beauty repeat themselves, over and over. Yet the physics of beauty is enhanced by a self, a unique, self-organizing system. Scientists now know that a single flower is more responsive, more individual, than they had ever dreamed. Plants react to the world. Plants have ways of seeing, touching, tasting, smelling, and hearing.
Rooted in soil, a flower is always on the move. Sunflowers are famous for turning toward the sun, east in the morning, west in the afternoon. Light-sensitive cells in the stem “see” sunlight, and the stem’s growth orients the flower. Certain cells in a plant see the red end of the spectrum. Other cells see blue and green. Plants even see wavelengths we cannot see, such as ultraviolet.
Most plants respond to touch. The Venus’s-flytrap snaps shut. Stroking the tendril of a climbing pea will cause it to coil. Brushed by the wind, a seedling will thicken and shorten its growth. Touching a plant in various ways, at various times, can cause it to close its leaf pores, delay flower reproduction, increase metabolism, or produce more chlorophyll.
Plants are touchy-feely. They taste the world around them. Sunflowers use their roots to “taste” the surrounding soil as they search for nutrients. The roots of a sunflower can reach down eight feet, nibbling, evaluating, growing toward the best sources of food. The leaves of some plants can taste a caterpillar’s saliva. They “sniff” the compounds sent out by nearby damaged plants. Research suggests that some seeds taste or smell smoke, which triggers germination.
The right sound wave may also trigger germination. Sunflowers, like pea plants, seem to increase their growth when they hear sounds similar to but louder than the human speaking voice.
In other ways, flowers and pollinators find each other through sound. A tropical vine, pollinated by bats, uses a concave petal to reflect the bat’s sonar signal. The bat calls to the flower. The flower responds.
Sharman Apt Russell | Anatomy of A Rose: Exploring the Secret Life of Flowers [x]
The star GD61 is a white dwarf. As such, it’s insanely dense—similar in diameter to Earth, but with a mass roughly that of the Sun, so that a teaspoon of it is estimated to weigh about 5.5 tons. All things considered, it’s not a particularly promising stellar locale to find evidence of life.
But a new analysis of the debris surrounding the star suggests that, long ago, GD61 may have provided a much more hospitable environment. As part of a study published today in Science, scientists found that the crushed rock and dust near the star were once part of a small planet or asteroid made up of 26 precent water by volume. The discovery is the first time we’ve found water in a rocky, Earth-like planetary body (as opposed to a gas giant) in another star system.
“Those two ingredients—a rocky surface and water—are key in the hunt for habitable planets,” Boris Gänsicke of the University of Warwick in the UK, one of the study’s authors, said in a press statement. “So it’s very exciting to find them together for the first time outside our solar system.”
Why was water found in such a seemingly unhospitable place? Because once upon a time, GD61 wasn’t so different from our Sun, scientists speculate. But roughly 200 million years ago, when it exhausted its supply of fuel and could no longer sustain fusion reactions, its outer layers were blown out as part of a nebula, and its inner core collapsed inward, forming a white dwarf. (Incidentally, this fate will befall an estimated 97 percent of the stars in the Milky Way, including the Sun.)
When that happened, the tiny planet or asteroid in question—along with all the other bodies orbiting GD61—were violently knocked out of orbit, sucked inward, and ripped apart by the force of the star’s gravity. The clouds of dust, broken rock and water that the scientists recently discovered near the star are the remnants of these planets.
Continue reading about this amazing discovery at Smithsonian.com
Study looks at how musical training teaches us to detect our own mistakes. Pair with these 7 essential reads on music and the brain and philosopher Daniel Dennett on the art of making mistakes.
Today marks the Autumnal Equinox and the first day of fall. At 4:44 pm Eastern Daylight Time, the earth will mark the point in its journey around the sun at which day and night are equal.
The word equinox comes from Medieval Latin equinoxium meaning equality of night (and day) from the Latin word aequinoctium meaning the equinoxes from aequus meaning equal and nox(genetive singular form noctis) meaning night. Many European languages that share common Proto-Indo European roots share this form-the word to express the equality of night and day but only refers to night. A few (the Russian равноденствие for example) express it as equal-day.
The image shows the cause for the Equinox-the Earth is tilted in space, relative to its spin, so that as it travels around the sun, the angle of the sun changes ever so slightly every single day, with two days (autumnal and vernal equinoxes) that have the same amount of day as night. There is also a point in the Earth’s orbit of the Sun at which there is a maximum amount of either daylight or night-time, and these are known as the Solstices. Check back in December for that post!
This map puts our Solar System into proper perspective. Pair with 5 visualizations to grasp the scale of the universe, then hear what the Voyager 1 heard when it made its historic crossover into interstellar space.
Photos © Flood G.
Modern archeologists, excavating ancient Egyptian tombs, have often found something unexpected amongst the tombs’ artifacts: pots of honey, thousands of years old, and yet still preserved. Through millennia, the archeologists discover, the food remains unspoiled, an unmistakable testament to the eternal shelf-life of honey.
There are a few other examples of foods that keep–indefinitely–in their raw state: salt, sugar, dried rice are a few. But there’s something about honey; it can remain preserved in a completely edible form, and while you wouldn’t want to chow down on raw rice or straight salt, one could ostensibly dip into a thousand year old jar of honey and enjoy it, without preparation, as if it were a day old. Moreover, honey’s longevity lends it other properties–mainly medicinal–that other resilient foods don’t have. Which begs the question–what exactly makes honey such a special food?
The answer is ascomplex as honey’s flavor–you don’t get a food source with no expiration date without a whole slew of factors working in perfect harmony.
John Bohannon on Zhao Bowen, a 21-year-old leading genetic researcher on what makes some humans — like him — geniuses:
Zhao’s goal is to use those machines to examine the genetic underpinnings of genius like his own. He wants nothing less than to crack the code for intelligence by studying the genomes of thousands of prodigies, not just from China but around the world. He and his collaborators, a transnational group of intelligence researchers, fully expect they will succeed in identifying a genetic basis for IQ. They also expect that within a decade their research will be used to screen embryos during in vitro fertilization, boosting the IQ of unborn children by up to 20 points. In theory, that’s the difference between a kid who struggles through high school and one who sails into college.
Getting awfully close to Gattaca.
If parents use IVF to conceive, then a genetic test—an extension of the screening tests for genetic diseases that are already routinely done on embryos—could let them pick the smartest genome from a batch of, say, 20 embryos. “It’s almost like there are 20 parallel universes,” Hsu says. “These are all really your kids.” You’re just choosing the ones with the greatest genetic potential for intelligence. But effectively, you could be giving an unborn child a boost in IQ above their parents. As Hsu sees it, this is no Faustian bargain. “Aren’t we doing them a great service?” Over the long term, he proclaims, this would “improve the average IQ of the species by quite a bit.” He hopes governments will even provide it for free; Singapore, he predicts, would be the first to sign up.
Did I say “awfully close”? Nevermind.
String Theory is probably the best candidate for a Theory of Everything, including the so far elusive Quantum Gravity. I have to say, that as viewer of the the matter from the outside, I’ve gone from a deep skepticism, mostly because of the lack of empirical validation, to believe that is the theory with most likely to thrive. The absence of reasonable alternatives, the internal consistency of the theory itself, and the historical background of other theories that emerged from mere theoretical considerations (eg the Standard Model), is behind of this personal evolution.
We’ll see, but meanwhile, this site does a good job of popularizing the theory itself, as well as an excellent review of almost all Theoretical Physics. From the page:
This site provides a brief and entertaining introduction to string theory for the general public. Topics include quantum gravity, string physics, current research, future prospects, history and news. Kindly supported by The Royal Society and Oxford Physics.
Resurrected protein’s clue to origins of life
New reconstructions of ancient proteins have provided clues to the habitat and origins of life on Earth.
The resurrected protein is thought to have existed almost four billion years ago in single-celled organisms linked to the earliest ancestor of all life.
The protein survives in the extreme environments of high acidity and temperature expected on early Earth and, intriguingly, also Mars.
Timeless wisdom from pioneering female astronomer Vera Rubin, born on July 23, 1928. Her entire Berkeley commencement address is a must-read.
The acoustic signatures of many animals contain features we humans cannot appreciate, given the limited range of frequencies we can hear. In fluid dynamics and many other fields, scientists and engineers have to find ways to analyze and decompose time-series data—like acoustic pressure signals—into useful quantities. Mark Fischer uses one tool for such analysis, a wavelet transform, to turn the calls of whales, birds, and insects into the colorful snapshots seen here. Wavelet transforms are somewhat similar to Fourier transforms but represent a signal with a series of wavelets rather than sinusoids. They’re also widely used for data compression.
(Image credits: M. Fischer/Aguasonic Acoustics; via DailyMail)