Excerpts from science, technology, environment and health reports from around the web.
In many areas of life, tall people seem to get all the benefits. On average, they earn more money. They are more successful at work. Taller people are just more, er, highly regarded than their shorter counterparts.
But research is showing that short people might win out in one big way: they might be less prone to cancer, and even have longer lives, than tall people. Although the jury is still out on how much height affects longevity, it shows no signs of stopping our cultural preference for taller people.
Sometimes big change comes from small beginnings. That’s especially true in the research of Anatoly Frenkel, a prof. of physics at Yeshiva Univ., who is working to reinvent the way we use and produce energy by unlocking the potential of some of the world’s tiniest structures: nanoparticles.
“The nanoparticle is the smallest unit in most novel materials, and all of its properties are linked in one way or another to its structure,” said Frenkel. “If we can understand that connection, we can derive much more information about how it can be used for catalysis, energy and other purposes.”
When Europe’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) started up in 2008, particle physicists would not have dreamt of asking for something bigger until they got their US$5-billion machine to work. But with the 2012 discovery of the Higgs boson, the LHC has fulfilled its original promise — and physicists are beginning to get excited about designing a machine that might one day succeed it: the Very Large Hadron Collider (VLHC).
“It’s only prudent to try to sketch a vision decades into the future,” says Michael Peskin, a theoretical physicist at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in Menlo Park, California, who presented the VLHC concept to a US government advisory panel on 2 November.
Who ruled the dinosaur dynasty before the king of the dinosaurs? This guy.
Lythronax argestes, or “Gore King of the Southwest,” was discovered in Utah in 2009 and is formally announced in a journal article this week. The carnivorous beast is the earliest known member of the tyrannosaurid family, which includes the infamous Tyrannosaurus rex.
The 24-foot skeleton is thought to be that of a juvenile who in life weighed 2.75 tons—markedly smaller than the 40-foot length of the average T. rex. Like Tyrannosaurus, though, L. argestes had enormous and frightening teeth embedded in a short snout, and forward-facing eyes, which gave it depth perception that other dino species lacked.
I don’t know about you, but I totally avoid making difficult choices, particularly when there doesn’t seem to be any way to determine the what the correct decision might be. Surprisingly, the study shown here suggests that honeybees might approach decisions in the same way. The experiments consisted of decision tests of different levels of difficulty: the “easy choices” were a reward (sugar, yum!) placed clearly above or below a visual reference, and a punishment (quinine, yuck!) in the other position. “Hard choices” were represented by the reward being offset but overlapping with the visual reference, and “impossible choices” were actually impossible to predict: “For impossible trials (so-called because objectively they had no correct answer and therefore were rewarded pseudorandomly), the centers of both targets were in line with that of the reference.”
Honeybees were allowed to choose to either be rewarded, punished, or to “opt out” and fly away. It turns out, when presented with harder choices, the bees were more likely to “opt out”, indicating that when the “right answer” is less obvious, the best choice may be to make no choice at all (at least if you are a bee… or me!).
Beauty, the saying has it, is only skin deep. Not true. Skin is important (the cosmetics industry proves that). But so is what lies under it. In particular, the shape of people’s faces, determined by their bone structure, contributes enormously to how beautiful they are. And, since the ultimate point of beauty is to signal who is a good prospect as a mate, what makes a face beautiful is not only an aesthetic matter but also a biological one. How those bone structures arise, and how they communicate desirable traits, are big evolutionary questions.
Until now, experiments to try to determine the biological basis of beauty have been of the please-look-at-these-photographs-and-answer-some-questions variety. Some useful and not necessarily obvious results have emerged, such as that one determinant of beauty is facial symmetry.
One of the most important innovations in Apple’s latest iPads lies behind the screen. In many of the tablets, the pixels in the display are controlled by transistors made of a material called indium gallium zinc oxide (IGZO), a promising replacement for the conventional amorphous silicon.
Displays featuring “backplanes” of IGZO transistors should make it possible for tablets and TVs to have much higher-resolution displays while consuming significantly less power. The technology has already cropped up in low volumes of high-end smartphones and televisions, but its appearance in iPads suggests we can expect IGZO to improve several more popular products over the next year.
A new solar cell material has properties that might lead to cells more than twice as efficient as the best on the market today. An article this week in the journal Nature describes the materials—a modified form of a class of compounds called perovskites, which have a particular crystalline structure.
The researchers haven’t yet demonstrated a high-efficiency solar cell based on the material. But their work adds to a growing body of evidence suggesting that perovskite materials could change the face of solar power. Researchers are making new perovskites using combinations of elements and molecules not seen in nature; many researchers see the materials as the next great hope for making solar power cheap enough to compete with fossil fuels.