May 22, 2013 10:31 am
For years, researchers have struggled to discern whether temperature has anything to do with normal seasonal fluctuations in viruses—what the cold has to do with catching colds. And according to new research, Nature News reports, the old wives’ tale that the chilly winter air promotes sickness does turn out to be founded in fact.
Rhinoviruses cause the common cold and are the culprits behind most seasonal ailments. Lower temperatures, researchers from Yale University found, suppress the immune system’s ability to fight off these viruses in both mice and human airway cells.
In an attempt to solve the cold conundrum, Foxman and her colleagues studied mice susceptible to a mouse-specific rhinovirus. They discovered that at warmer temperatures, animals infected with the rhinovirus produced a burst of antiviral immune signals, which activated natural defenses that fought off the virus. But at cooler temperatures, the mice produced fewer antiviral signals and the infection could persist.
Humans likely follow the same patterns. The researchers grew human airway cells in the lab, then exposed them to rhinoviruses under different temperatures. Like the mice, the cells kept at a warm temperature were more likely to fend off the virus by undergoing programmed cell death, which limits the replicating virus’ spread throughout the body.
Thus, colds proliferate in winter when temperatures drop and cold air chills people’s upper respiratory tracts, giving the rhinovirus a chance to strike. While your parents were right to advise you to bundle up, the researchers point out to Nature that in science, nothing is ever so simple, and temperature is likely to be just one of several factors promoting colds in the wintertime.
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May 22, 2013 9:34 am
Heinrich Rohrer, winner of the 1986 Nobel Prize in Physics, passed away last week at the age of 79. Rohrer is widely regarded as one of the founding scientists of the nanotechnology field.
In his Nobel Prize announcement, the Nobel Prize committee called out “his fundamental work in electron optics and for the design of the first electron microscope.” The electron microscope is what let scientists see viruses and IBM make this little animation. Here’s Physics World on how the Scanning Tunneling Microscope (STM) works:
An STM creates an image of the surface of a sample by scanning an atomically sharp tip over its surface. The tip is held less than one nanometre from the surface and a voltage is applied so that electrons can undergo quantum-mechanical tunnelling between tip and surface. The tunnelling current is strongly dependent on the tip–surface separation and this is used in a feedback loop to keep the tip the same distance from the surface. An image is obtained by scanning the tip across the surface to create a topographical map in which individual atoms can be seen.
The scientists’ colleagues at I.B.M. were skeptical of the project. As Dr. Rohrer recalled, “They all said, ‘You are completely crazy — but if it works you’ll get the Nobel Prize.’ ”
For inventing the STM, Rohrer didn’t just get the Nobel Prize. He was also awarded the German Physics Prize, the Otto Klung Prize, the Hewlett Packard Europhysics Prize, the King Faisal Prize and the Cresson Medal. His invention also got him inducted into the U.S. National Inventors Hall of Fame. That’s because the STM allows scientists to look at the arrangement of the atoms on a surface and move atoms around. Seeing this atomic level and being able to study and manipulate it allowed scientists to develop modern forms of nanotechnology.
Rohrer was born in Buchs, Switzerland, on June 6th, 1933, half an hour after his twin sister. Rohrer wasn’t planning on going into physics, he writes in his autobiography:
My finding to physics was rather accidental. My natural bent was towards classical languages and natural sciences, and only when I had to register at the ETH (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology) in autumn 1951, did I decide in favor of physics.
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May 21, 2013 4:44 pm
On Monday, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer said she wasn’t going to worry about ridding Tumblr of porn. “It’s just the nature of user-generated content,” she said.
In other words: Welcome to the Internet, there will be porn.
And Mayer is right. The numbers about just how much of the Internet is dedicated to porn are wildly variable, but they’re there. Some estimates put porn at 30 percent of all Internet traffic. Other places claim the percentage is far higher. Forbes put the question to neuroscientist Ogi Ogas, who studies our consumption of all things wicked, and heard that, in 2010, about 4 percent of websites were dedicated to porn and, between July 2009 to July 2010, about 13 percent of web searches were for some sort of erotica.
Now, some of that comes from the changing demographics of who uses the Internet, says Ogas. When the web was first formed, it was largely populated by dudes. “I think in 1999 that 4 or 5 of the top 10 searches on the Web were for porn,” he told Forbes. But now the uses and users of the Internet have increased dramatically. And while Internet users are still looking for porn, it’s not the only thing or even the most common thing they’re after.
But it is there. It’s there, and it’s easy to find. Which is why parents and lawmakers are still talking about it. In the UK, David Cameron announced that all porn sites would be blocked from public places, striving to create “good, clean WiFi.” Mirror News writes that the Prime Minister “stressed the importance of parents having confidence in public internet systems and that their children ‘are not going to see things they shouldn’t’.” And the UK isn’t the only place to talk about cracking down on porn. In Iceland, they’ve proposed to ban all online pornography—a curious turn for a generally liberal country.
Now, actually carrying these bans out is hard. You can’t just flip a switch and change the content of the Internet. The Economist explains why Iceland’s ban in particular would be hard, but the reasons stand for most porn bans:
Banning online pornography would be tricky. The definition of violent or degrading pornography would have to be clearly enshrined in law. Iceland would then have to police the internet, a difficult thing to do. When Denmark and Australia introduced online blacklists in an effort to block porn sites, some innocuous websites crept on to the lists by mistake.
Basically, actually rooting out which sites are porn and which aren’t isn’t as easy as it might sound. And, ban or no ban, porn will always be on the Internet for those who choose to seek it out.
This is why some places are arguing that rather than ban or regulate or stamp out porn, children and adults should simply be educated on the pros and cons of pornography. In the UK, where they want to ban porn from public wifi, 83 percent of parents felt that students should learn about pornography in sex education classes. In the United States, one class at Pasadena College takes porn head on. The course, Navigating Pornography, has students watch and discuss porn, and tries to debunk the myth that people should learn about sexuality through porn. “Students today live in a porn-saturated culture and very rarely get a chance to learn about it in a safe, non-judgmental, intellectually thoughtful way,” professor Hugo Schwyzer told the Huffington Post.
Buzzfeed visited Schwyzer’s class to see just what a course in porn might be like:
But in many places, where even regular sex education is hard to come by, the chances that students will learn about porn are slim to none. The National Children’s Bureau says that teaching about porn is crucial to giving children a well-rounded education about sex and relationships. Lucy Emmerson, Co-ordinator of the Sex Education Forum for the NCB, says that teachers are too scared to mention porn in class. “Given the ease with which children are able to access explicit sexual content on the Internet, it is vital that teachers can respond to this reality appropriately,” she says. “Whilst in some cases children find this material by accident, there are instances when they come across pornography whilst looking for answers to sex education questions; it is therefore wholly appropriate that pornography and the issues it reveals are addressed in school SRE.”
Basically, the reality is that ban or not, young people are going to encounter pornography on the Internet. Whether or not they’re ready for it seems to be up to their parents and teachers.
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May 21, 2013 3:44 pm
There’s the China Art Palace, the size of New York City’s Museum of Modern Art. Just down the river there’s the Power Station of Art that, according to NPR, resembles the Tate Modern. There’s the China Fire Museum, and the Shanghai Museum of Glass. Since 2008, the Chinese have allocated something like $800 million to building new museums, and for the past few years, the country has opened about 100 each year, NPR says. In 2011 alone, 400 were built. China now has over 3,000 museums.
But while China might be booming in museums, the museums are not necessarily booming in visitors. Over half of the museums in China are free to visit. The others are relatively inexpensive. But when a big Andy Warhol exhibit opened up at the Power Station of Art, just 6,000 people came. The city boasts 23 million residents.
NPR reports that this statistic has a few explanations. First, The Power Station isn’t in an obvious place, sitting in an abandoned part of the old Shanghai Expo. Second, most people in China don’t know who Andy Warhol is. “When it comes to contemporary art, [Li Xu, deputy director of planning at the museum] says, most Chinese don’t know where to begin because cultural education has lagged far behind China’s economic boom,” NPR writes. Xu says that “one-third to one-half of artworks are hard for average visitors to understand if they didn’t receive sufficient art education. Chinese graduate students’ understanding of art only reaches the level of middle school students in the U.S.”
While most museum-curious people in the United States might immediately recognize Andy Warhol or Van Gogh or Georgia O’Keefe, the average Chinese has never heard of them. (And, let’s be fair, do names like Liu Ye, Zhang Xiaogang, Yu Youhan, and Mao Xuhui—all artists China Daily calls “celebrated figures”—mean much to American audiences?)
The other problem with these booming museums is that they might not be sustainable. Even now, after just opening, many of the museums aren’t open regularly. “They might have a grand opening or a press conference with great photographs and government officials,” Jeffrey Johnson, an architect who studies Chinese urbanization told NPR, “but if you return to this museum, which officially has been open for three months, it … might be closed and locked.”
According to the China News Service, the government is ready to commit money and resources to keep these museums going: “In the next ten years, the cultural industries are expected to see a golden period of development in China, and more residents can expect museums near their homes,” the service reports. Other groups in China are trying to educate their residents about art, so they can recognize and appreciate exhibits better. But it has become clear that if you build them, people won’t necessarily come.
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May 21, 2013 2:54 pm
Yellowstone National Park is a vast expanse of largely-untouched natural beauty, a tract of the west home to bears and wolves and geysers and mountains. But where humankind’s direct influence is deliberately kept to a minimum, that strategy of do-no-harm doesn’t always seem to work. For the past few decades, lake trout have been taking over the rivers and lakes in Yellowstone, pushing out the local Yellowstone Cutthroat trout. The Greater Yellowstone Coalition:
Yellowstone Lake and its tributaries once supported an estimated 3.5 million Yellowstone cutthroat trout. Since the illegal introduction of lake trout in the 1980s, the cutthroat population in Yellowstone Lake has plummeted. Catch rates for Yellowstone cutthroats have significantly dropped as more and more lake trout are caught every year. The precipitous drop in cutthroat numbers is a result of lake trout predating on cutthroat trout.
But more than just affecting cutthroat trout, the invasion of the lake trout is being felt throughout the ecosystem. According to new research lead by Yale’s Arthur Middleton, the replacement of cutthroat trout with lake trout is leaving Yellowstone’s local population of grizzly bears without enough fish to eat. Middleton and colleagues:
Historically, Yellowstone Lake harboured an abundant population of cutthroat trout, but lake trout prey heavily on cutthroat trout and have driven a decline of more than 90 per cent in their numbers. Although cutthroat trout migrate up shallow tributary streams to spawn, and are exploited by many terrestrial predators, lake trout spawn on the lake bottom and are inaccessible to those predators.
Without fish, the grizzlies need something, and in their place the bears have turned to eating baby elk.
In the late 1980s, grizzly and black bears killed an estimated 12 per cent of the elk calves in northern Yellowstone annually. By the mid-2000s, bears were estimated to kill 41 per cent of calves.
The researchers say that by turning to elk calves in place of the now-gone trout, the elk population growth rate has shrunk by 2 to as much as 11 percent. The research reminds that the food web is in fact a web, and that the illegal introduction of a few trout can mean a whole lot of dead elk.
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