Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Why/How do optical illusions work?

We've all seen them, and we all enjoy them, but why do they work? How do they work?

They come as either 2D or 3D.

The vase/people kissing

2D optical illusions work by contrasting colours. For example, black and white, yellow and purple, have a gander at the colour wheel to check out the opposites!
  • The way 2D ones work is by using the space not really used by one colour to compliment the space of another. For example, take this one on the right. 
  • The space that isn't used in the vase, is used for the faces, and vice versa.
  • Depending on your personality and the way your brain is wired, if you're a romantic (or a player for that matter), then you'll see the 2 faces about to kiss. However, if you're a person who appreciates vases, you'll probably see the vases. 

This is a concept hard-wired into us about making sense of the environment relative to what we like doing.

The moving dot

This is a cool one!

  • Open that picture up in a new tab.
  • Stare at the black cross, the dot should appear to be green, and the lilac dots should disappear.


When you stare at the cross, the lilac is so intense, that your brain tries to balance it with the opposite end of the colour wheel. (green)
The grid

Get a close look, the black and white dots gone all funny?

Well, there's actually no black dots..

  • This is caused by a clash in the receptive field, where your dark light receptors compete with your bright light receptors.

Away from the Psychology and into the Biology 

Your eyes have a blind spot. This is the bit in your eye where your brain takes no notice of what's going on.

Now you may be thinking, "why isn't there a big hole of nothingness?". It's your brain being clever, it can fill in the blank space with bits of information. 

Wanna try it? 
  1. Click the image on the right. 
  2. Close your right eye, and slowly move closer, focusing on the dot, the cross should disappear.
  3. Try it with your left eye, this time focusing on the cross, the dot should disappear!

In your eye, you need to send all the information to the brain, and it so happens, this nerve runs right across the middle of your eye. (Bit stupid I know). Anyway, this is the bit where your receptors get no information because the Optical nerve blocks the way. However, lucky for you, your brain fills the space in and you can see!

Monday, 30 January 2012

Grape seed extract: Cure for cancer

Head and neck cancer is a big killer, however perhaps the cure lies in the tasty little fruit?

Cancer is among the biggest killers in medical history, caused by rapid mitosis, the body mass quickly grows into uncontrolled proportions.

The idea for this all started in around 2008, where it was monitored eating a lot of fruit produces more antioxidants, which trigger cell death in cancer cells, but not in healthy ones.

The reason this whole thing is so slow is because curing cancer in a test tube is not the same as curing it in a live subject, in a live being, there are so many other uncertainties and risks that can happen, for example if the drug is toxic to blood cells.

Grape seed extract has recently been discovered to hinder the quick multiplication, but wait, it gets better! Normally, cancer drugs affect both healthy cells and cancerous cells. (Which is why when people undergo treatment they lose hair)

They lose hair because hair cell growth is very slow. If you slow this down even more, it just doesn't grow fast enough.

However, the extract has been evident to halt cancerous growth, but not healthy cells! This would prove to be a breakthrough in Oncology!

This process has already made it to animal trials, which effects were seen in mice, however will the same effects prove successful in clinical trials? Only time will tell.

Currently, the trial has been moved to clinical, and patients will undergo treatment if their first chemotherapy sessions fail.

However, it is only targeted to head and neck cancer, but perhaps in time the chemistry behind the extract can be exploited, and prove to be a viable weapon to the bigger killers.

Before you try it, don't eat yourself to death with grapes, it won't work!

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Quitting Facebook may make you happier

Facebook has integrated itself into our lives in the last few years, since 2004, a small networking community has evolved into a global phenomenon. But could it make you unhappy?

Recent study shows that quitting Facebook could make you happier

A study on 425 students at Utah Valley State University investigated effects on their lives from spending time on Facebook.

When you scroll through your news feed you can see other peoples lives, and photos of them being happy.

The study suggests that seeing other people happy with their lives makes you feel down about your own because of the false illusion that their lives are perfect.

  • When you see photos of people enjoying themselves you reflect on yourself and you realise you're not doing anything fun at that moment in time. 
  • This is because of the illusion that others are constantly happy with their lives, whereas yours has ups and downs, so don't believe it!


This doesn't apply to some people. In the study, students who have more face-to-face interaction were less affected by this illusion and were less likely to think others have it better off.

So what should we do?

  • First, try to put that illusion to one side, it's easy to forget about in the long run but I guess that's one of the disadvantages of Facebook. 
  • If you're really down about yourself, give your social skills a think and compare to others, if you are happy where you stand, then great! If not, consider approaching people differently.

I'm not saying you should quit Facebook, as the advantages outweigh disadvantages. Social communication is an important thing, Facebook promotes that, but it does come at a price.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

The Earth's expiry date: how it could end!

a relevant song to listen to while you read - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RwxDhdXjgCs

Everyone knows the world will end, it's even been a theme of many popular movies! 

No need to worry about witnessing the end of the world, chances are you won't be around to see it! (Unless you use cryogenic science to freeze yourself).

But in the future, the world will fall victim to some kind of disaster..

Asteroid impact
  • Luckily the dinosaurs took one for the team so we're fine for a while, but astronomers predict that there will be one every 5 millennia. However we should be fine, as the film Armageddon shows that we'll most likely blast it off course!
  • The space is vast. Think of an empty Earth as space (just plain air), now think of a pebble in the air, and the chances of us throwing a smaller pebble at random and it colliding with the first pebble. It's just not going to happen, even if you throw a million pebbles, you probably still won't get anywhere.
  • As far as astronomers are concerned, they're more annoyed about asteroids smashing into their beloved satellites!
The Sun

The Sun is our friend, responsible for all life as we know it, it allows plants to photosynthesise, and it warms the planet up to the optimum temperature, allowing liquid water to form. But after many years, it can turn into a ball of nasty fire which wants to kill us.
  • Fortunately it won't turn into a black hole, it's not big enough
  • When it's about to die, it'll expand and engulf the Earth, but don't worry, by that time we'll have populated space and only the unlucky few left on Earth will have a quick death.

First you have the normal volcanoes, mountains which spew out lava everywhere, but actually they don't really do much, lava is quite slow so you can probably just run away.

But then you have the Supervolcanoes, these are a more badass version of your usual volcano. However lucky for us there's only 7 in the world! 3 of which are in America, (unlucky you Americans).
  • The smoke these produce will be on a scale of millions times normal than a normal volcano
  • The lava coming out will be seemingly endless
  • Luckily for us, these are sleeping and have been for a few million years. 

I'm actually being serious here, if you read my posts a few days ago, you'll realise the potential for intelligent life is massive. And chances are if they are as selfish as the human race, they'll want to wipe us out!

However if they are so developed as to come to us rather than us go to them.. It's big trouble for us :(
  • Unfortunately this can happen at any time
  • However there may also be nice aliens, who want to help us!
  • If they do help us, we'll be able to advance as a race and create new technology and end world hunger etc etc.
Black holes

For some reason people are scared the Earth will fall into a black hole. No need to fear! As by the time we know there is a black hole about eat us, we'd already be inside it!


You may be thinking I'm getting a bit silly now but zombies can actually happen, a few years ago a fish was discovered which had a poison that could allow the brain to function after death. 

For those of you who have seen 28 days later, viruses have endless possibilities, so some secret underground government lab may be making one at this minute! (Better grab your baseball bat..)

Methane burps

These are massive methane deposits below the ocean which man has failed to harvest.

These can be released by global warming: The Earth warms --> The ocean warms --> Methane released.

Now methane is even worse as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and that's going to make matters worse if it wasn't bad enough!

More greenhouse gases --> Even warmer --> Even more methane!

So it's kind of like a chain reaction..

I hope if you've had a boring Saturday I've spiced it up a bit!

Friday, 27 January 2012

Chocolate could prevent colon cancer

We all love chocolate, whether it be milk, dark, white, Belgian, Swiss, we all love the cocoa goodness!

Well, perhaps our body loves it even more!

 A recent study on live animals suggested that cocoa, the major material in chocolate helps the intestines fend against oncoming diseases.

The cocoa helps line your intestines even more than usual and this protects it from colorectal cancer.

Colon cancer 

The colon is the bit before your bum, and is a hotspot for cancer (the third biggest killer in the US). If your large intestine has problems (such as the lining) then your risk is increased, however recently there may be a way to prevent it!

What is cocoa good for?

Cocoa is officially labelled a superfood.


  • 7.5g a day could reduce risk of heart attack by 39%! 
  • Increases blood flow
  • Better blood pressure
  • Boosts memory!
  • It tastes awesome!
Cocoa is extremely anti-oxidant rich!
  • Heart attacks
  • Stroke
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Cancer
  • High blood pressure
  • Cholesterol levels
  • Arthritis
  • Asthma
  • Alzeimer's
What does it do to cancer?
Scientists led a study on rats who were fed on a daily diet of chocolate (yeah I know lucky right?) and the amount of bad things cancer induces was severely lowered! Now, if that can happen in rats, surely potentially it can happen in humans too? 

On top of the positive points of chocolate, it is also a potential cancer preventer. 

So don't feel guilty eating it, feel guilty not eating it!

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Why do we yawn? and why is it contagious? / why does our nose run when we have a cold/cry?

Yawning is most common when we're tired or bored, and occasionally randomly too! But why?

To be brutally honest, it's not crystal clear why we yawn, but there are a few very convincing and interesting theories!

Because you're not breathing properly

  • When you're bored, your heart-rate will be lower than normal because you aren't really doing much, your brain realises this is the case and makes you yawn so you get more oxygen in and get your processes back up to scratch.
  • However some studies have shown breathing in more oxygen has little effect on decreasing yawning
Keep the lungs lubricated
  • Your lungs need to be kept lubricated with what's called surfactant, an oily substance used to keep the lungs open, which kinda makes sense, otherwise it would be harder to breathe after every breath (lungs must be moist so oxygen transfer can happen between alveoli).
  • Every time you yawn, surfactant is redistributed.
Another theory suggests it's not about tiredness, but more the CO2 output
  • It's well known that carbon dioxide is the waste product, so your body needs to expel it. However there's not many opportunities to do that when you aren't breathing a lot. So this theory suggests that you yawn to increase the about of CO2 you breathe out, keeping your levels safe.
I've read a ton of theories on this, and the latest seems the most sensible, after all your body is pretty picky about the conditions it's in.

Why is it contagious?

It's not entirely known why, however studies have shown that similar emotional events bring communities closer, and yawning may be one of them, yawning with a fellow human being gives you a sense of a connection.

Another theory is the root of empathy, we consider others and when they yawn, we do the same to show our feelings.

Why do you cry a bit when you yawn?

You may have noticed sometimes you tear up when you yawn. This is due to the lachrymal ducts which holds your tears, when you yawn, some muscles in your face contract which squeezes this sac, and it produces tears from the tear duct.

On the side: why does your nose run when you have a cold or when you cry?

  • When you have a cold, the sinuses are covered in ependymal cells. This produce loads and loads of protein rich fluid to wash out all the bacteria.
  • Normally, when the lachrymal ducts which hold your tears let them drain down the back of your nose and down your throat (you don't feel it). But when you cry, you make significantly more tears and instead of draining down the back, they just flow down your nose!

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

What are pins and needles and why do we get them?

The fancy name for it is Parasthesia. It occurs when nerves don't get enough blood flow or when they are damaged. (Which is why you get it when your resting on your leg etc)

A bit about nerves
  • Have an extremely high metabolic rate. Really, they consume energy a lot faster than most tissue in your body. (perhaps that's why pain makes you tired?)
  • Impulses travel at around 25m/s!
  • Neurons don't undergo mitosis, once they're gone, they're gone.

Anyway, as we know nerves have a high metabolism, if it doesn't get enough blood flow, it will shut itself down. The first to power down are the pain fibres, which is why you feel a sharp pinch. 

If you have pins and needles, one way to get rid of them is start shaking your arms/legs around like crazy, this will increase the blood flow back to your nerves and they'll be happy again!

Side topic, ever felt like bugs were crawling on you but nothing was there?

Known as formication, not to be confused with fornication which is about sex!

This can actually be the result of many different causes such as
  • Wind blowing on your hairs
  • Nerves being pinched
  • Rubbing hairs on clothes
  • Bugs crawling on your arm then magically disappearing
The most common is the first one, however formication is a known result from menopause, depression paranoia and many others, and in a rare case result in the person scratching themselves till the point they bleed.

However there is a very slight chance you have invisible bugs crawling on you, if you suspect this, don't go to the doctor as they'll think you're an idiot.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Class A drugs may soon be adapted for medical use

Everyone takes drugs for a reason, most of them for re-creative purposes, so there must be some benefit medically?

Normally illegal drugs aren't open for medical analysis, mainly because well, it's illegal. The government restricts scientists from carrying out research on drugs, but soon it might change!

Research call

Many doctors and scientists have called for a loosening on the grips of illegal drugs, wanting to exploit the drugs benefits and use the positive effects to create a new, legal drug.

However, because of the government being the government, they still firmly hold a tight grip on drugs policy. 


Most drugs have desired effect.

For cannabis it's the relaxed sensation, the rumour that it has caused deaths is totally propaganda, no deaths have happened whatsoever!

Ecstasy could be used for spiritual purposes. (however unlikely as many cases have resulted in suicide etc)

For magic mushrooms it's the mild hallucinations, though they aren't harmful, people can experience good trips or bad trips. The best being seeing colours pulsating etc, and the worst being dizzyness.

Even LSD has potential therapeutic effects!

What are the possibilities?

For cannabis, if it is legalized then it can be widely used to treat depression, while also being good for you! (for more info on that, read one of my earlier articles on cannabis)

For magic mushrooms, it could be used as an anti depressant

For heroin it could possibly even be exploited as a very powerful painkiller.


With all these comes prices, many of illegal drugs are addictive and this could be a major problem if they are legalized, not to mention some other harming effects, for example heroin clogs blood vessels which can lead to serious problems.

I'm not promoting the uses of any of these drugs, merely stating the paths research of them could lead to, they are harmful and have many side effects!


Monday, 23 January 2012

Why do you cry? / Your tears, the ultimate weapon

Another relevant song.. - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HU8sd8uNBxY&ob=av2e

Why do you cry?

Crying is a chemical reaction in your body which is provoked by emotion and pain. If you didn't know, newborn babies don't produce tears when they cry because they lack the experience of emotion and pain to induce the chemical reaction, add that to your fact bank eh?

Your tears

Your tears are a weapon against bacteria, it has been well known that tears contain healing properties but recently, scientists have nailed the cause.

Tears contain lysosomes which in turn contain lysozymes, the enzyme used in breaking down organic material. And it so happens this enzyme annihilates bacteria, literally ploughing through bacteria cell walls like a digger!

UCL scientists managed to create a transistor over 20 times smaller than the ones found in your laptop. A transistor on a molecular scale. Individual lysozymes were attached to the transistor, and their chomping habits were measured. Collins, one of the scientists said "It's just like a stethoscope listening to your heart, but this one listens for protein".

The 3 types of tears

Basal tears

These are always in your eyes, stopping them from drying out. If you ever feel tired and your eyes are dry, it's because of a lack of basal tears.

Reflex tears

These are the ones you produce when you get dirt in your eyes, or when the wind blows in your face. They protect your eyes from potentially being damaged.

Interesting fact here, onions make you cry because the onion cells have a chemical inside them which stimulates your tear glands. When you cut through the onion, you rupture the cells and the chemical is released.

Emotional tears

These are provoked through hormones from the endocrine system. Sadness is registered in your cerebrum, the largest part of your brain. That's the part of your brain responsible for your reaction when Bambi's mum

So now you know a lot more about tears. Next time you injure yourself, just cry and rub your tears on your wound!

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Why do people bully? / The consequences in later life

Firstly, what defines a bully?

Google comes up with 2 definitions for this.

  • A person who uses strength of power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker.
  • Corned beef.
So it's definitely not the second one, would be a bit unfortunate if you're a victim of beef.. Now onto the reasons why?


Often it arises from past history of lack of self confidence, then a sudden decision to change and the person latches onto that power and evolves into what's known as a bully. Respect, attention, popularity, jealousy are a few of the main motives of a bully. Deprived of these things earlier in their lives, they crave for it after a burst of confidence and it spirals out of control.


It is often family upbringing that swerves a person into becoming a bully. If that child is sandwiched in between an older and younger sibling, they gain the least attention. The parents would focus on the oldest for education and the youngest because of their vulnerability. Deprivation of attention from parents are one of the worst things a child can experience, feeling uncared for, they reflect this onto other people and in time become a bully. 

Furthermore if the parents aren't too decent themselves, the child sees this as the norm and give abuse like it's normal.


Many times the bully wants something from the victim, I'm not talking about the victims food or money, but often friendships or the position they are in.

For example, if the victim receives attention from lets say, an attractive girl, and that girl doesn't give this attention to the bully, rather than focusing on the girl, he attacks the victim to try and swerve the attention to him. 

Or if so happens the victim has a really close happy family, the bully gets jealous and targets that person.


Bully's often become one by experiencing humiliation themselves. If for example, they'are really clumsy, they see this as a vulnerable area, rather than an accident. They begin to hate that vulnerability and in turn when they see someone else's flaws, they act like a magnet, homing in on that hate.


A lot of the time, those that don't shine in academics want to shine in other areas and be better than others, you guessed it, by bullying.

What should the victim do?

It's often that people think victims should walk away, but this only makes things worse. Victims are victims because bullies see them as inferior. To overcome being a victim, you must overcome the bully. Some scientists interviewed a few students being bullied, and told them to say something to the bully which would show they have a greater power than them like "Get the hell away from me", then they must break eye contact and walk away. And in 89% of the students, this ended the problem! Being brave pays off!


Scientists scanned brains of bullies and found that the parts of brains which self regulate emotions (so love, kindness, generosity etc.) were inactive. This suggests that they have far less control over their emotions and instead of dealing with situations emotionally, they deal with them physically.

What are the consequences in later life?

A large study taking 22 years followed thousands of children (not in that way) to see what their attitudes were like after childhood. Surprisingly, 60% of the childhood bullies had a criminal record by the end of the survey, and were often unemployed, woman beaters and depressed.

So if you're a victim, stand up for yourself!

(If you're a really hard bully and you're reading this, I didn't write this article!)

Saturday, 21 January 2012

What's inside a black hole/Where did our universe come from?

The most fitting song to this article (yep, you guessed it!) - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1m-BRcgUW5Y

First of all, what is a black hole?

A bit daunting really, often known as the black hole of death, nothing can escape it's grip; not even light (why you can't see it). It's not exactly a swirling space whirlpool of doom, it's just a place where the gravity is so strong, not even light can escape. Theory's think all this mass sucked in focuses onto a single point; until recently. But more about that further on!

Where do black holes come from?

General knowledge this one, black holes are the result of supernovas imploding and after a while, it reaches its size determined by what's known as the Schwarzchild radius. 

To qualify to become a black hole, the star needs to be roughly 25x our sun's mass, and when it explodes the outer layer throws off a loads of energy, but the core collapses on itself, condensing to a single point, and now it's a monster which eats every single thing near it.

What happens if you fall into a black hole

So lets say you're in your little space ship, dock next to a black hole. You jump into it, now what? 

Firstly you'll slowly drift in, but very quickly you'll realise you are truly FUBAR. The gravity on your feet will be 1000 stronger than on your head, and you're going to be stretched thin like spaghetti. Assuming you survive that (you won't), by the time you get inside the hole, you're going to be a thin strand of mass many miles long. Inside is a temperature of millions of degrees, now if thats not enough to end you, the amount of X-rays spewing out surely will!

Okay, now you've survived the very hot conditions and the X-ray havoc, what next? Well, this point is the Event Horizon, nothing now can escape, there's no way back..

Imagine a waterfall, as the water hits the rocks and water below, some flies back up, this is what it's like inside a rotating black hole. As you get sucked further in, the environment becomes even more chaotic, other mass inside the hole will collide with you.

So lets say you survived even that. What lies ahead? The truth is, we aren't exactly sure. All equations fail at the centre of the black hole.


Recently, Nikodem Poplawski proposed that inside a black hole is another universe. These could make sense as all the mass has to go somewhere! 

Einstein proposed that at the heart of a black hole is a space-time singularity, singularities are created whenever mass is too dense in a region. 

Poplawski's equations say that this mass isn't actually gathered at a dense heart, but rather expelled in another reality. Gamma rays are often observed at the edges of our universe, similar to the bursts from supernovae, thinking what I'm thinking? Poplawki reckons these are bursts from another universe's black holes.

Supermassive black holes

We've all heard the badass Muse song, but what is it?

To be honest, it's what it says on the tin, a black hole which has absorbed a lot of mass, including other black holes classify as a supermassive black hole. But wait there, scientists have confirmed there is one at the centre of every galaxy, including our own milky way. Poplawski reckons the gamma bursts are responsible from these black holes, which could hint that our own universe was birthed from the centre of another black hole.

Now if this is all correct, he may have solved The Big Bang Theory! 

(not why Sheldon is so awkward)

Friday, 20 January 2012

Crash dieting makes you even fatter/ how to effectively lose weight!

Ever tried trimming off a few pounds for a holiday?

The key is to plan and lose weight long term, not short term.

It's well known that people, (mainly you girls) try to diet every now and then to feel a bit thinner. Well, this may work short term, but in the long-run you'll feel some pretty grim effects.

Yes, it's true that carbohydrates are the main contributor to calories, but they are one of the most vital parts to your diet. Carbohydrates are your main source of energy, and also the source of fat. Now carbs only turn to fat after eating 80g. So anything under 80g will be used in the next hour as your energy source; this supplies your body with its basic needs. However if you starve yourself of energy, well, its pretty self explanatory, you won't feel very good.

Eat vegatables! You may hate them, but they slow down carbohydrate intake, which helps you manage your weight more. Also it helps your digestive system move (feeling a bit grim writing this), letting your bowel operations run smoothly.

But don't get me wrong! Every week or two, allow yourself a day to completely pig out. It's not going to do much in the long term, also as time goes on, you'll learn to appreciate the food and eat it slower, which makes you get full faster and eat less.

What does carbohydrate do?

As you may know, the digestion system is reliant on enzymes, after a few stages of breaking down,
Carbohydrates turn into mainly glucose, a tiny bit of lactose and a tiny bit of fructose. Glucose is used by your cells for respiration and converted to energy.

So what makes you fat?

When you eat more than the maximum carbohydrate limit your body can take for the hour, any leftover gets turned into fat for storage and later use.

Why crash dieting is bad

When you diet/crash diet, the average person tries to eliminate as much carbohydrates as possible. This makes your body go into panic mode and store everything you eat in case things get worse. Yeah, you guessed it, that means you aren't really losing much fat.

Furthermore, with a deficiency of energy, your body won't be up to scratch either, and you're going to be feeling grim a lot of the time.

What to do

Diet in moderation. Just go slightly over the 80g so your body is satisfied. The leftover will indeed be converted to fat, but do you really eat every hour? No I didn't think so either! Over the next hour or two your body will burn the stored fat because it knows you won't be starving it to death by crash dieting.

Eating several smaller meals instead of 3 big ones will give your body a sense of monitoring a steady income of food and so will keep burning fat instead of being tempted to store it.

Probably heard it before, but eat fruit! It contains fructose which is a lot sweeter than glucose but in smaller amounts so it fills your glucose needs while the roughage is good for you. (And no carbohydrate!)

You probably guessed it, exercise! Except not as much as you think you'll need to. Exercise keeps your body fit, and when your heart rate goes between 108-126 bpm you start burning calories a lot faster. However, your diet is more important than exercise so think of exercise as bonus points!

To serve as a motivator for exercise, you lose 1g of fat for every 9 calories you burn!

So if you take anything from this article, don't crash diet. It's more stupid than taking a solar powered torch into a cave.

On a side note, my travel insurance is now sorted so work experience in africa is a guarantee!

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Bitching is good for you! Here's why..

"Hey, you know _____, isn't he so annoying?"

We've all heard it before, people calling people fat, annoying, ugly boring, the list goes on. Ironically gossiping, or more commonly known as bitching (I'll refer to it as gossiping in this article) is actually healthy for you for several reasons.

  • Alleviating stress - This is a funny one, perhaps reducing other people reputations up's your own and makes you feel better.
  • Prevents bad behaviour - verbally discussing bad points about people makes you less likely to react physically when the moment comes. This is true if you think about it, if you gossip about someone being really annoying to your friend, when that person comes and annoys you, it's just a laugh and more light-hearted.
  • Gossiping is therapeutic- It's been scientifically shown that when gossiping, heart rate increases, and after decreases again. Maybe a problem talked about really is a problem halved.
John Hardy, a neuroscientist from UCL reckons gossiping is hard-wired into the human race. We just can't help it! Which is quite true if you think about it, the urge to point out someone's flaws is very tempting. He think's that perhaps in prehistoric times it helped build up on social structures. After all that is still reflected today, having the same opinion as someone else constructs conversation and you become better friends; the equivalent of this in prehistoric times was finding a mate (yes, that kind of mate).

Gossiping is also a social currency. For example you can probably go to India and have a conversation about Angelina Jolie or Dave Grohl (that would be constructive gossiping, because he's awesome). Likewise you can have a personal rant about someone the other person doesn't even know, and chances are the conversation will flow. For example "Right, this girl I know back at home, she's such a ___" "Haha, really? Tell me more!"

What about you?

Gossiping ultimately benefits you. Hearing other people's flaws makes it clear to you what's good and what's bad, helping you climbing up the social ladder and being more likeable! Even if you're the subject of gossiping you do tend to improve on yourself if you think about it, and this is constructive for you. 

So next time you hear someone talking about you, don't get angry, improve on yourself! (and maybe gossip about them too)

[ If someone gossips about you and refer's to me being the motive, don't listen to them :) ]

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Why do we love music?

This tunes fits perfectly with the article - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JeqG4HgG5Go&ob=av2e

Music, whether it's a soothing classical piece, an up-tempo beat with synth, or heavy metal; we all love it in one way or another. But why?

Music has been around since the beginning of our existence, even when we were not so technically intelligent, we still sang, hummed, and tapped rhythms.

Pleasing to one of our five senses, music has evolved into such a vast art, to satisfy each individuals taste. But underlying beneath the pleasure of music, perhaps there is a scientific side towards it too.

Why do we like it?

  • It gives us a sense of time, whether the music is in 2/4, 4/4, or 12/16, it lets us count in moments when notes happen, which would make sense as it would give us serious advantages during our less developed times such as when to make the kill, how to stay safe etc.
  • Important mammalian emotions which include anger, fear, excitation would be vital to survive. And perhaps the time signature of pieces reflect this. A more rigorous tempo would insinuate excitation or anger, maybe like when we were hunting in prehistoric times. A slow piece often makes the listener feel relaxed and safe which would in turn have social benefits- a huge need in prehistoric times was clans, this allowed them to survive and spread.
  • Recently discovered, listening to music actually stimulates the whole brain! Literally your brain lights up like a firework display (through scans of course) which may help certain processes. (Shown above)
Why do we only like certain music?

The truth is, we don't. Our brain wants it wants at the time, we remember that, and we edge towards a preference over time. Why do you think at parties we prefer upbeat music? Because we adapt to our enviroment and get moving and socializing. 
When we are raised in different enviroments, we evolve different tastes. For example, being brought up in a busy place would suggest more energetic music. And in more rural areas, simpler music, for example folk music is usually not very relied on computers and often consists of a single acoustic guitar, a beat and vocals.

Why are the charts so poor?

It's often said that talent is lacking in the charts, whether this be a talentless artist who magically made it into the charts, people have preferences. And these preferences are often influenced by friends. 

Take an example; Justin Bieber - Universally hated and adored by few, he is successful. This is because there is a smaller group of people who genuinely like the artist and spread news about him which leads on to their friends persuaded to like the music out of 'peer pressure'.

Relating back to the scientific side of this subject, perhaps his music is considered dreadful by many because it lacks relations to prehistoric times, it lacks a firm beat, it lacks genuineness (his voice is autotuned like crazy) and most importantly, it lacks emotion.

Will music change?

Probably not, more sub-genre's may emerge which certain people will enjoy, but it will only go so far.. We still have our basic instincts such as rhythm and emotion, and music reflects this wonderfully.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

The invincible strain of TB, and how antibiotics work

What is Tuberculosis?

TB is a bacteria infection which mainly targets the lungs in the area shown on the right and sometimes other areas, fairly common, it spreads through the air by coughing, sneezing etc and is dangerously contagious in third world crowded cities.

Symptoms are:

  • Chronic coughing
  • Bloody mucus
  • Fevers
  • Sweating at night
TB is often tied in with AIDS as the immune system is compromised and the bacteria takes advantage which makes matters even worse!

The Issue

Previously Tuberculosis or 'TB' was cured by administering antibiotics over an intense 6-9 month course. However recently in Mumbai, doctors have reported 12 cases of TB completely unaffected by antibiotics; 3 patients of which have already died.

As TB affects roughly 1 in 3 people worldwide, this is going to be a huge problem, totally antibiotic resistant strains means we have no means of helping people fight against their infection and many TB cases result in death.

How do antibiotics work?

Bacteria cells have a cell wall to protect against osmosis (the way which water absorbs). Inside the cell is all the stuff bacteria need to stay alive, so nucleus, ribosome's, cytoplasm, you know, the usual cell things. Anyway, when bacteria reproduce, the antibiotics intervene so that the new bacteria don't have cell walls. In turn, when water goes into the cell, there's no wall to protect it and the cell bursts, bye bye bacteria!

How bacteria become more and more resistant

Resistance to antibiotics is due to mutation, a mutation in the gene coincidently allows different proteins to form, and so happens this happens to be an enzyme which breaks down the antibiotic and stops it from killing the cell.

Bacteria can exchange this mutated gene with conjugation tubes (they basically prod the other bacteria with a tube and inject some genes into it), this is done in DNA in 2 ways, vertical gene transfer and horizontal gene transfer, vertical is basically like getting genes from your parents, in the same species. Horizontal is with different species, and so genes can cross bacteria species, like TB and Malaria.

This isn't good news as one bacteria can get different mutations from loads of other bacteria, in this case TB and now its super resistant :( much like MRSA.
We must be aware that this is not just an Indian strain issue, it is a worldwide problem. 

Here you can see the spiky species of bacteria 'prodding' the smooth and shaven bacteria
What we can do

Well, the only thing we can do is keep developing more antibiotics and keep hygienic. Until nanotechnology comes in and we invent supernanorobotwarriors which can fight TB. (by the way I'm not joking, it's going to happen!)

So until then ..Don't forget to wash your hands!

Monday, 16 January 2012

The truth behind Marijuana

It's apparently a very clear night and it's very cold so you can see space better than ever tonight, in support of astronomy, check out this tune http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R4wSsD_mpfo

Why is Cannibis illegal?

Propaganda is the answer.

Years and years ago during the heroin epidemic, the government wanted to enforce a no drugs law. This impacted everything from cocaine down to marijuana. Some political guy made a video to portray harmful effects in cannibis and from that, the drug escalated into a frame where people thought it was highly dangerous.

It's believed that marijuana has harmful effects, is addictive and destroys the lungs. But in reality, it's the total opposite!

In fact, marijuana has been proven to have so many medical benefits, from relaxation to anti-inflammatory properties. The fact that it's illegal means these effects can be less exploited.

Weed vs Tobacco

Even though the smoke in cannibis is similar to tobacco, they have nearly the opposite effect! Smoking tobacco is well known to restrict your airways, and damage alveoli in the lungs, in turn decreasing oxygen transfer (which is why smoker's can't breathe well).

BUT, smoking cannibis has strong evidence to OPEN your airways more! Yes you read that right. Testing lung capacity is done by blowing through a tube, and the further the disk inside moves, the better your airways. Well, pot smokers have reportedly done better in these tests than an average person.

Even better news, this study was taken over 2 decades with around 5000 men and women so it's not just a one off observation. But even though a lot of people were examined, more need to be tested so the answer is not clear yet.

However you still shouldn't smoke cannabis if you are still growing, as the effects on the brain are poorly understood. The drug is also known to be damaging in long term if used often.

Now I'm not promoting the use of illegal drugs (so if any official people see this, please don't go after me). I'm merely interpreting several sources on the drug!

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Why you get hangovers

So you've been to a party, had a great time and pulled a few people. Next thing you wake up with a banging headache! Why is this?

Caused by a lack of water, hangovers stop your body from functioning properly and can feel especially brutal if you are dehydrated before a night out.

Because of this lack of water, your brain tells you to conserve energy, which is why you can't be bothered doing anything the morning after.

Why you sometimes can't remember anything

Alcohol inhibits the amount of oxygen getting to your brain which impairs the amount of processing going on. This results in lack of coordination, lack of judgement and lack of memory.

Several factors affect the severity of a hangover

  • The amount of sleep
  • Amount of alcohol
  • How tired you were before you drank
  • How hydrated you are
  • How much you've had to eat
You may notice during a night of drinking, you break the seal. You probably don't realise this because your having too much of a good time but you end up going to the loo around 3-4 times in a night. This causes a substantial loss of water which your body needs.

Alcohol consumption increases the amount of stomach acid produced, this is why you feel sick. It also dilates your blood vessels, slowing down oxygen getting to places. That's why you feel tired and get headaches.

How to reduce your chances of one

Get some carbohydrate in you beforehand, it'll raise your blood sugar levels so you have more energy.

Now... this one works every time for me, after you get home drink about 2-3 glasses of water. Sure, you'll be running to the toilet every 10 minutes but at least you'll feel good in the morning!

Saturday, 14 January 2012

What's the potential for alien life?

A change of topic to space for today!

What are really the chances of extra terrestrial life?

Ever since the beginning of humanity, we have asked the question: 'are we alone?'

Since discovering the telescope in 1609, man has advanced in the frantic search for alien life. Our planet is the only planet in our solar system to contain intelligent life. So what is it that's restricting other planets from doing so as well?

What makes something alive?

  • A common organization of atoms. This is so important because this defines cells into larger molecules to make us.
  • Capable of transforming energy, this lets us function, and allows us to fulfil our needs.
  • Maintain homeostatis, this basically means keeping a system in a living condition, so keeping the body the right temperature by sweating etc.
  • Reacting to a stimulus, reacting to the environment is crucial as life must be able to adapt or survive.
  • Capable of reproduction, kind of common sense really..
  • Can affect the enviroment, this ties in with transforming energy, whether it being kinetic energy to move, or sound energy to make a noise.
What do we need to live?

Chemical building blocks (proteins, oxygen etc), water and an energy source are the essential things needed to live. 

  • Water is needed for more or less everything, from the cytoplasm in cells to allow them to function all the way to a transport mechanism. (In your blood).
  • Energy is obvious, so you can function. (Chemical energy from food becomes kinetic in movement etc).
  • Chemical building blocks suck as protein are needed so you have mass. 
Now some single celled organisms don't need a transport system as they are so thin and small, diffusion can just transport stuff for them.

The potential for life

If we want to roughly estimate the chances of intelligent life out there. Lets say  Earth is the only planet with intelligent life in 100,000 stars, just to be very safe!
Now it is estimated there is between 200 billion to 400 billion stars in just our galaxy. So in our galaxy there is possibly 2 million up to 4 million planets with intelligent life!
..theres more.

That was just our galaxy, a german supercomputer has calculated possible over 500 billion galaxies in the universe! So now potentially there could be from 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 planets up to 20,000,000,000,000,000,000 planets with intelligent life!

To put that into further perspective, that is from 1 million million million million million up to 20 million million million million million planets with intelligent life! 

So I think that the chances we are alone are probably not very high.. That was also with the very generous margin of 1 planet in 100,000 with intelligent life.

Oh yeah, and that's intelligent life. Think of how many which can hold just life!

On a more important note.

Given how many planets could possibly hold life, whatever creature you can think up with your imagination, there's quite a decent chance it exists! ...maybe even pokemon.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Fry-ups and cancer

Do you like your bacon and sausages?

A group of Swedish scientists have proposed a link between processed meat (yes bacon is a processed meat) and pancreatic cancer.

They suggest eating just over 70 grams of processed meat daily can increase risks of pancreatic cancer by up to 19%, and every added 50 grams adds on another 19%. So lets say you eat 10 sausages a day (a bit far fetched I know), you would supposedly have an added risk of 171% developing pancreatic cancer.

To make matters worse, pancreatic cancer has a shockingly low survival rate, so if you are a bacon lover and eat over a pack daily, you may want to check with your doctor the status of your pancreas..

Fortunately the chances of developing pancreatic cancer anyway is reasonably low, roughly 1.30% in men, and  1.27% in women.

However this could just be a link between obesity and pancreatic cancer, and it's worth pointing out smoking is a much riskier habit to develop not just pancreatic cancer, but 11 others also.

So, until any further evidence is released, I won't be reducing my bacon intake and I plan to have a fry-up tomorrow morning!

Thursday, 12 January 2012

The internet and your brain

Have many Facebook friends do you have? 

While you're reading, have a chill to Ben Howard -http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UzzCthKw_C0

Professor Geraint Rees, UCL , led the study which investigated the correlation of 125 university student's number of friends on Facebook with the size of parts of their brains.

The number of Facebook friends were counted for each student, then a scan of their brain was taken. The peculiar thing is, there is no direct correlation between the size of brain and the number of real life friends. This could hint that the factor on the brain size is not the number of friends, but perhaps time spent on the internet.

However, it is not just the internet which could affect brain size, as the sample group was quite bias, being university students, the study is restricted to that age group, and also not taking into account the brain sizes of teenagers not in study.

The bigger picture

Indeed perhaps going online is having an effect on our brains, but as the internet has only been available for a number of years, who knows what the effect could be in another 20 years? Or even 100 years? The internet is a growing feature in our lives and it allows us to connect to one another all over the planet. We must accept that our brains have to pay the price, positively or negatively.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Smokers and Dementia

For all you heavy smoker's out there, how does dementia sound to you?

A U.S study of 21,000 middle-aged smokers who go through 2 packs a day unveiled the risk of developing Alzheimer's is nearly doubled. 

Just smoking 40 a day increased the risk of vascular dementia by 172% and Alzheimer's by 157%.  Surely this is enough to sway smokers to quit?

The way current things are swinging; in 2050 the chances of a person developing Alzheimer's in their lifetime is roughly 1 in 85. You may be thinking 'ha, I won't be that 1 in 85', this is where things can turn terribly for the worse. The chance to develop Alzheimer's is 1 in 85, if you're a heavy smoker you may want to keep reading.

A 157% increase raises those chances to 1 in 50, and if you have a family history of dementia the chances are further increased. 

This is just one addition to the massive growing list of reasons why not to smoke. As well as risking dementia, lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema, bone loss, bronchitis, stroke, diabetes and so many more, you also have to pay for it! It's kinda like paying for your own death really.

Second chance

Now if you are still young you have a chance to redeem yourself, if you give up by middle age, your risk of developing any of the above diseases is significantly reduced. The risk of dementia is however also lowered if you smoke under half a pack a day. But this doesn't mean you should still be puffing half a pack of cigarettes, as you're still susceptible  to 11 different cancers and the many other different diseases.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

How long will you live for?

According to the Scots at Glasgow university, telomeres are the key to longevity, the length of these tiny pieces of DNA may determine how long you live for.

What are telomeres?

Telomeres are the cap at the end of chromosomes to keep it's structure. As you might know, chromosomes are composed of DNA, and DNA is basically a lot of strands bunched together, so without the caps, the structure would just fall apart.

Have a look at the the chromosomes below, the telomeres are the white dots 

Over time, because of mitosis (cell division), the telomere gets shorter and shorter from degradation. Imagine you're eating a lolly, every lick you take is a division, eventually you'll wear it down and the stick is exposed. The telomere situation is exactly this (minus the stick and tastiness), after a lot of division through your lifetime, the DNA, previously held together by your telomeres is exposed and falls apart. This causes the cells to die or malfunction.

yeah, so what?

Some clever scientists lengthened the telomeres of mice, and it reversed the signs of ageing in them. It could show potential for extending life!

Now it hasn't been done in humans yet (probably because no one has been brave enough to be the test subject, and also because its illegal) but as laws change a lot, maybe you can try your luck in the future! (I would wait until someone else has tried it first so you know whether or not you'll mutate into some monster).

So if your telomeres are long, then great- you'll live longer than your friends!

If your telomeres are short, well.. you're just unlucky.

Telomeres can be renewed by enzymes called telomerase, these can temporarily keep your chromosomes going but not really by much, what you really want is gene therapy. This will permanently lengthen them and can possibly allow you to live longer when the technology comes out.

If you want to read more on it, including the effect on finches, take a look at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-16479649

..and while you're at it, have a chilled listen to Bon Iver- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TWcyIpul8OE