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Winds of Discovery: 2004-06-18

| 3 Comments | 2 TrackBacks

Welcome! This is the 2nd edition of "Winds of Discovery", a bi-monthly report by Glenn Halpern of HipperCritical that will take you on a wild ride across the spectrum of science and discovery.

Topics this week include: Alzheimer's effects not all memory; Human brains work like robots; Voles and the science of love; Fifty new embryonic stem cell lines; Double-click patent; The energy debate; Bioterror research - defense or offense?; Diabetes breathalyzer; Self-replicating robots; Discovering Atlantis; Wild 2 comet is strange; The youngest black hole; Water on Mars; Science and religion; New clues on climate change; Drunken worms; Safe fugu; Beetle love

If YOU have a link suggestion send it to discovery, here Regular topics include:


  • Former President Ronald Reagan finally succumbed to the ravages of Alzheimer's Disease following a ten-year long battle. He may have become a shell of his former self during that time, but in some ways, his melody lingered on. In fact, a recent study at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute validates this point by finding that Alzheimer's patients do manage to keep some forms of memory intact.
  • Researchers have resorted to experimentation on voles to understand the science of love, and Kevin Drum highlights the latest discovery. If the ladies have it their way, there may be more monogamy on the way.
  • A recent study has concluded that males with lowered testesterone levels may benefit from a few high doses of estrogen. Men in advanced stages of prostate cancer (who had undergone testesterone deprivation therapy) demonstrated an improved long-term memory and decreased feelings of confusion following the estrogen treatment. A follow-up study may be conducted to determine whether the side effects of such treatment include periodic increases in personal attacks on other men.
  • Nerve cells may be more malleable than previously thought. The general consensus had been that nerve cells are hard-wired for specific functions, but scientists at the University of California-San Diego now believe that certain patterns of electrical activity in the nerve cell can alter the program.
  • Fifty new embryonic stem cell lines have been created at the Reproductive Genetics Institute in Chicago. As the lines were not around prior to August 2001, federal funding for scientific research will not be available (unless there's a change in Bush administration policy, or a change at the White House).


  • Wesley J. Smith makes some valid points about the overhype surrounding embryonic stem cell research, such as when advocacy groups claim that a cure for Alzheimer's Disease is right around the corner. Stem cells will never provide an easy fix for this disease in particular, as Alzheimer's attacks many different types of cells in the brain. But the outlook for embryonic stem cell research could be much brighter when it comes to treatments for a whole host of diseases and ailments. Intellectual honesty is so very important when real information is in the hands of a select few, and those in the know should look for moral guidance when treading these waters. I just hope that Mr. Smith holds himself to the same standards that he holds for others. And that goes for the editors of The Weekly Standard too.
  • In what is just another sign of the continuing deterioration of America's intellectual property system, Microsoft has been awarded a patent for double-clicks on limited resource computing devices (aka PDA's and cellphones). No word yet from the patent office on how it determined that this function is novel or non-obvious.
  • The United States government has funneled large sums of money in the direction of bioterror research over the last few years. We all hope that this will make us safer in the long run, but it now appears that this research is stretching from defense to offense. Good intentions gone bad? We'll see... (Hat Tip: MetaFilter)


  • Researchers at Mississippi State University have invented a breath analyzer to detect the early stages of diabetes. Miniscule amounts of acetone in one's breath is an indicator for the disease, and this new device is sensitive enough to measure in parts-per-billion.
  • Has the lost city of Atlantis been discovered through satellite imagery off the coast of Spain? This isn't the first time that such a claim has been made, so we'll just have to wait and see about this one.
  • If you can build a robot, then you certainly know about the next robot race. But did you know that the race is also on for innovations in marine robotics? These competitions open up new ideas and new talent, and their value for the future of scientific progress should not be overlooked (or under-reported).


  • On the ever-apparent clash between science and religion, from the perspective of an astrophysicist: "We can't ever rule a divine being out using science, because the divine being, of course, could have set it up so that we could discover what we have but see no direct imprint of the work of that divine being". Read more wisdom dropped by Brian Greene in his interview with The Atlantic.


  • Some scientists believe that the extraction of the longest ice core ever recorded may uncover some clues about the history of climate change on this planet, and may also allow for more precise predictions of future temperature variations.
  • We are always gaining new information about the origins of life on this planet, and its no surprise that tiny little microbes are offering new clues.
  • Cornell University, my old alma mater, installed a new eco-friendly "Lake Source Cooling System" a few years ago which cools down buildings during the (somewhat) hot Ithaca summers. It's a magnificent plan, though the school may benefit from its unique geographical circumstances.


  • Drunken worms may help to reveal who is the drunken master! Seriously though, scientists may be learning more about a genetic basis for variable degrees of alcohol tolerance through this research with worms (and The Legend of Drunken Master is the best kung-fu movie ever).
  • For the sushi lovers out there, researchers have planned a special diet for the pufferfish (or fugu for those who are more familiar) so that its deadly poison is completely removed. Will true fugu fans be drawn to the non-toxic variety, or is it the danger that excites them?
  • It may make sense to talk to your dog after all. Apparently, man's best friend can understand a good chunk of what is being said to them, at least in a similar sense as a young child. Just don't wait around for your dog to talk back any time soon, unless his name is Brian.
  • And finally, some beetles will try to "make love" to just about anything. The Australian jewel beetle, in this case, takes a genuine liking towards empty (and available) stubbies in its neck of the woods. Betsy Devine observes: "More proof, if we needed it, that beer-drinking leads to unwise romantic choices". Or maybe it's just love that makes one dumb.

Please check back in two weeks for another exciting edition of Winds of Discovery!

2 TrackBacks

Tracked: June 18, 2004 3:51 PM
Science roundup: from On The Third Hand
Excerpt: Winds of Discovery: 2004-06-18 Topics this week include: Alzheimer's effects not all memory; Human brains work like robots; Voles and the science of love; Fifty new embryonic stem cell lines; Double-click patent; The energy debate; Bioterror resear...
Tracked: June 18, 2004 6:18 PM
Better All The Time #14 from The Speculist
Excerpt: It's not that Better All the Time is a weekly feature. It's just that — here lately — we've been doing about one a week. Today's Good Stuff: Quote of the Day Smart Pills for Everybody Where No Atoms...


Just read this about some work on Nano technology and it may interest you.

"The nanodumbells shaped somewhat like mini-weightlifting bars offer a solution to problems of building new, nanocrystal transistors, the basic component of computer chips."

Re: Wild 2 (can't help but pronounce it "Wild", whether it's supposed to be "Vilt" or not), the artist's conception is really cool (and probably pretty close), but for the lava lamp/black light ascetic, you can't beat this. Also, we shouldn't forget that our really cool pictures are coming from something even cooler--a spaceship that flew close enough to pick up samples of the ice and dust blowing off it, and made it through even though it took a mighty beating:
The team predicted the jets would shoot up for a short distance, and then be dispersed into a halo around Wild 2. Instead, some super-speedy jets remained intact, like blasts of water from a powerful garden hose. This phenomenon created quite a wild ride for Stardust during the encounter. "Stardust was absolutely pummeled. It flew through three huge jets that bombarded the spacecraft with about a million particles per second," said Thomas Duxbury, Stardust project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. Twelve particles, some larger than a bullet, penetrated the top layer of the spacecraft's protective shield.
That's good engineering at work. Thanks for the great roundup

Longest Ice Cores
Found this via bizzare science blog.
Ice core gas samples may not accurately indicate
previous climates.

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