ICYMI: This Week’s Science News (7/28/17)

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By: Jaclyn Cascio (@jaclynator)

When the world gets you down, remember that there is some really great research going on that will make the world better, or at the very least, entertain us. If STEM discoveries weren’t high on the priority list of news channels and you’re curious about what’s been happening, read on! ICYMI, here’s some of the science news from the last week!

Weird!

The mystery surrounding an unexplained signal (officially called “Weird!”) that drew the public’s eye and aroused the hopes of some for extraterrestrial life has been solved. Strange signals were reportedly coming from Ross 128, a dim star roughly 11 light years from Earth. After much debate and networking, it seems that the signals are simply a type of satellite interference, transmissions from geostationary satellites. So the search for life continues…

Run, run, as fast as you can…

This Monday, a team of scientists revealed a “speed rule” formula that can predict (with 90% accuracy) an animal’s maximum speed knowing only their weight and the environment they move within (water, air, or land). Muscles and strength are not enough to dictate the speed at which an animal can move, the researchers concluded. Speed is dependent on strength and the rate their muscles use up the energy stored in the muscles. The fastest animals tend to be in an intermediate range, with enough muscle to move them forward without too much mass that requires expending energy too quickly. The formula seems to work when estimating dinosaur travel speeds as well! Beware, most of the quick animals are faster than humans; it seems our species has looked for brains, not brawn.

To chip or not to chip…

Wisconsin company Three Square Market, a snack stall supplier, is the first U.S. company to offer microchip implants to its employees. Approximately 50 of the company’s 85 employees have voluntarily agreed to the implants, which are the size of a grain of rice and set to be placed between the thumb and forefinger. The implant will hopefully allow the employees to perform tasks around the office with ease (such as opening doors, logging in to computers, using the copy machine, etc.). The company’s offering of the implants has, of course, sparked some debate, especially concerning the privacy of the “chipped” employees. Will it be the wave of the future or will people stick to microchipping their pets?

Self-talk takes a third-person perspective

Talking to yourself in the third person isn’t just for the lonely anymore. A new study has shown that talking to yourself in the third person in response to an emotional event may help keep emotions in check. The Michigan State University team conducted two research studies and the results seem to indicate that psychological distance is created by talking to oneself using a third person perspective. It appears to help to see ourselves as we see others, allowing us to balance our emotions more easily and reducing activity in areas of the brain associated with painful emotions. And it takes the same amount of energy as talking to yourself in the first person – so it’s an easy option! So chat away and talk with yourself about what you’re feeling.

Let’s look at the land down under the land down under!

A few months ago, the underwater continent Zealandia, emerged in the headlines. This week, a two-month long expedition sets off to try to uncover the mysteries of the continent and take a closer look at the Pacific Ring of Fire. The drill ship in the expedition will collect sediment from Zealandia to learn more about what the continent has been doing for the last 53 million years. What secrets will Zealandia reveal?

Books aren’t the only things being edited.

The DNA of a human embryo has reportedly been edited for the first time in the United States. A team of researchers from the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland apparently changed the DNA of one-celled embryos using CRISPR gene-editing technology. The embryos were not allowed to develop beyond a few days with no intention of implantation in a womb by the team. There are still few details about the research, but it is likely that it may answer some questions about the possibility of mutations when editing genes. Could the X-Men eventually become the real deal?

Imagination

Scientists working at Google’s DeepMind project are working on developing AI capable of imagination. Humans regularly take actions and predict their consequences, from big life decisions to simple actions like placing a glass of water on the edge of a table. Working through decisions to make plans for the future without explicitly programmed instructions is a challenge for AI, so DeepMind scientists have worked to create a system combining trial and error with simulation capabilities. The new system is helping the AI learn more with less experience and cope with gaps of knowledge to make decisions for the future. So how long will it be before a DeepMind system makes the leap that humanity is toxic and sets out to destroy us and war with us using Terminators?

I’ve lost weight. Can you tell?

Protons are everywhere. Inside every atom lies a proton. Using electric and magnetic fields in a Penning trap, scientists have worked to measure the mass of protons, attempting to be more and more accurate in their measurements. Physicists in Germany have worked to be more accurate, and it seems that protons are much lighter than originally thought! Of course, the team acknowledges that they might have stumbled onto unforeseen errors and hope that other teams will use their methods to support the new measurements. Could more accurate measurements help with other discoveries? We’ll see!

Breaking news: Weather forecasters happier than tornadoes in trailer parks!?

The National Severe Storms Laboratory is developing a new prediction system that will hopefully be able to put out a tornado warning an hour or more before the storm (as opposed to the average 13 minutes residents have currently). The new system, Warn on Forecast (WoF), was tested in Oklahoma, and the trial run gave residents 90 minutes to prepare for tornadoes. Currently, warnings are given after humans manually look at data and attempt to make predictions, but WoF gathers and analyzes more data than a human could ever hope to process. The prediction model uses the massive amounts of data to anticipate storms and how they might develop, and if further testing is successful, it might become a step forward in early-warning systems, giving people more time to prepare and escape danger! Now, if you’ll excuse me. I’m off to watch Twister.


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