Here are my personal top science stories for this week. You might of course have a different selection, so if you spotted something cool, drop a note into the comments and I’ll add it along with a hat-tip to you in an update.
Contrary to Popular Models, Sugar Is Not Burned by Self-Control Tasks
Contradicting a popular model of self-control, a University of Pennsylvania psychologist says the data from a 2007 study argues against the idea that glucose is the resource used to manage self control and that humans rely on this energy source for will power.
The analysis, conducted by Robert Kurzban and published in the current issue of the journal Evolutionary Psychology, shows that evidence previously presented in favor of the claim that the brain consumes extra glucose when people exert self-control shows no such thing.
The new analysis contradicts results published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology based on “resource” models of self control, suggesting that when people exert self control — by, for example, carefully focusing their attention — a resource is “depleted,” leaving less of it for subsequent acts of self control. This study identified glucose as this resource that gets depleted.
Discovery of ancient cave paintings in Petra stuns art scholars
Spectacular 2,000-year-old Hellenistic-style wall paintings have been revealed at the world heritage site of Petra through the expertise of British conservation specialists. The paintings, in a cave complex, had been obscured by centuries of black soot, smoke and greasy substances, as well as graffiti.
Experts from the Courtauld Institute in London have now removed the black grime, uncovering paintings whose “exceptional” artistic quality and sheer beauty are said to be superior even to some of the better Roman paintings at Herculaneum that were inspired by Hellenistic art.
Virtually no Hellenistic paintings survive today, and fragments only hint at antiquity’s lost masterpieces, while revealing little about their colours and composition, so the revelation of these wall paintings in Jordan is all the more significant.
Into the wild
[Article then goes on to talk about a whole host of activities you can do with the kids … including …. Pond Dipping … City Safari ….Pressing Wild Flowers …Rock Pooling …. Ladybirds ….etc….]
Big Quakes More Frequent Than Thought on San Andreas Fault, Research Shows
Earthquakes have rocked the powerful San Andreas fault that splits California far more often than previously thought, according to UC Irvine and Arizona State University researchers who have charted temblors there stretching back 700 years.
The findings, to be published in the Sept. 1 issue of Geology, conclude that large ruptures have occurred on the Carrizo Plain portion of the fault — about 100 miles northwest of Los Angeles — as often as every 45 to 144 years. But the last big quake was in 1857, more than 150 years ago.
UCI researchers said that while it’s possible the fault is experiencing a natural lull, they think it’s more likely a major quake could happen soon.
“If you’re waiting for somebody to tell you when we’re close to the next San Andreas earthquake, just look at the data,” said UCI seismologist Lisa Grant Ludwig, principal investigator on the study.
Is the Ice in the Arctic Ocean Getting Thinner?
The extent of the sea ice in the Arctic will reach its annual minimum in September. Forecasts indicate that it will not be as low as in 2007, the year of the smallest area covered by sea ice since satellites started recording such data. Nevertheless, sea ice physicists at the Alfred Wegener Institute are concerned about the long-term equilibrium in the Arctic Ocean
They have indications that the mass of sea ice is dwindling because its thickness is declining. To substantiate this, they are currently measuring the ice thickness north and east of Greenland using the research aircraft Polar 5. The objective of the roughly one-week campaign is to determine the export of sea ice from the Arctic. Around a third to half of the freshwater export from the Arctic Ocean takes place in this way — a major drive factor in the global ocean current system.
The question of when the Arctic will be ice-free in the summer has been preoccupying the sea ice researchers headed by Prof. Dr. Rüdiger Gerdes from the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in the Helmholtz Association for a long time now. Satellites have been recording the extent of the Arctic ice for more than 30 years.
You don’t need brothers or sisters to be sociable
THE stigma attached to only children – that they have weaker social skills – is unwarranted. So say Doug Downey and Donna Bobbit-Zeher of Ohio State University, Columbus, who found that kids with siblings make no more friends than those without.
Concerns about poor social skills among children raised alone stem in part from a paper Downey published in 2004, which asked kindergarten teachers in the US to rate the social skills of children, aged around 5, in their care. He found that children with siblings received higher ratings.
But the difference appears to disappear as children age.
Hydrogen bonds are caught on camera
By affecting the way molecules bind to each other, hydrogen bonds are responsible for water’s high boiling point, ice’s propensity to float and DNA’s signature double helix.
Now these life-enabling bonds – essentially the force of attraction between one molecule’s slightly positively charged hydrogen atoms, and negatively charged areas on a neighbouring molecule – seem to have been captured on camera.
Individual atoms can be imaged using a scanning tunnelling microscope (STM). As its sharp-tipped probe scans a surface, the extent to which electrons “tunnel” between the tip and surface indicates changes in height caused by the presence of atoms.
In 2008, Stefan Tautz at the Jülich Research Centre in Germany and colleagues found that the resulting images became sharper if cold hydrogen is present between the tip and the surface.
Homework Wars: How Can Parents Improve the Odds of Winning?
Children are more likely to do their homework if they see it as an investment, not a chore, according to new research at the University of Michigan.
Most children in the United States say they expect to go to college, but there is frequently a gap between students’ goals and their current behavior, according to the study conducted by U-M graduate student Mesmin Destin and Daphna Oyserman, a psychologist at the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR), School of Social Work, and Department of Psychology. The gap can be especially wide among low-income and African American students, the study says.
The study is published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.
Geologists Revisit Earth’s Great Oxygenation Event: More Like the ‘Great Redox Evolution’
In “The Sign of the Four” Sherlock Holmes tells Watson he has written a monograph on 140 forms of cigar-, cigarette-, and pipe-tobacco, “with colored plates illustrating the difference in the ash.” He finds the ash invaluable for the identification of miscreants who happen to smoke during the commission of a crime.
But Sherlock Holmes and his cigarette ash and pipe dottle don’t have a patch on geologists and the “redox proxies” from which they deduce chemical conditions early in Earth’s history.
Redox proxies, such as the ratio of chromium isotopes in banded iron formations or the ratio of isotopes in sulfide particles trapped in diamonds, tell geologists indirectly whether the Earth’ s atmosphere and oceans were reducing (inclined to give away electrons to other atoms) or oxidizing (inclined to glom onto them).
It makes all the difference: the bacterium that causes botulism, and the methanogens that make swamp gas are anaerobes, and thrive in reducing conditions. Badgers and butterflies, on the other hand, are aerobes, and require oxygen to keep going.