Science & Society


Show Notes for Episode 9

Most people know that their nails always go soft and bendy when they immerse them in hot water for any length of time. Conversely when you cut your nails they dry up and become hard and brittle. But why is this? Biologists working with material scientists at the University of Manchester have worked out the best conditions for our nails which may ultimately help the cosmetic industry to mimic the real thing and refine their false nail and varnish products.

Dr Roland Ennos and his colleagues have found that our nails are at their best at a humidity of around 60%, which is the natural humidity of the fingernail bed in which the nail sits at the ends of our fingers.

Using a brace of the most modern tools of materials research, a team from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and Northwestern University has shed new light on one of mankind’s older construction materials—cement. Their refinements to our understanding of how cement and concrete actually work, reported this week in Nature Materials,* ultimately may make possible improvements in the formulation and use of cement that could save hundreds of millions of dollars in annual maintenance and repair costs for concrete structures and the country’s infrastructure.

The New York Mets should expect to win about 90 games in 2007 and the Yankees a whopping 110 games to lead their divisions, said Bruce Bukiet, PhD, an associate professor of mathematical sciences at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT). Bukiet, who is also an associate dean of NJIT’s College of Science and Liberal Arts offers the expectations for the number of games each major league baseball team should win based on his mathematical model, developed in 2000.

You may have read about the strange double asteroids dancing in space but putting together the pictures is a perfect example of science collaboration.

Prior to 2000, Antiope was just another asteroid. Then the 10-meter Keck II telescope in Hawaii discovered it was a doublet but not much else was known.

Two years ago, improved images from the European Southern Observatory's 8-meter Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile and Keck II determined an approximate orbit of the asteroids - but information was still sparse.

Enter crowdsourcing.

The good news: improved health care is reducing occurrences of intestinal parasites worldwide. The bad news: at the same time, rates of asthma are increasing worldwide. The link between these trends? Evolution – human evolution. The human immune system has evolved in the constant presence of intestinal parasites. The immune system is designed to react to these parasites – in their absence, the immune system overreacts to simple allergens, resulting in asthma. Its evolved state is mismatched to modernity. Similar mismatches produce increased risk of diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease in modern adult populations. Globalization is making understanding these types of complex evolutionary relationships more relevant in medicine as human environments change.

High-wire Act

High-wire Act

Mar 20 2007 | comment(s)

If Richard Dawkins had been smacked around the head with the double-slit experiment at an age when his skull was soft enough for him to feel the pain, he wouldn't be suffused with such luminous certainty about how the world works.

Evolution, the fundamental theory of biology, is tough for some folk to swallow. But that’s because a bunch of old bearded guys wrote something different a long time ago – and because the intuitions of an animal that lives for 70 years can’t handle what complex systems can get up to in 4.5 billion.

But unlike quantum theory, evolution has nothing mind-warpingly weird about it. So the nature of the real world seems obvious to an evolutionary biologist.

You sometimes hear that blind people have disadvantages. Don't say it to Geerat Vermeij. He got into graduate school at Yale after proving to the faculty he could identify shells through their shape and feel - using samples at random from their collection.

Vermeij, now 60, contracted a rare childhood form of glaucoma and has been blind since age 3. He discovered his love of shells attending school in New Jersey at age 9, where his family had moved because they liked that state's policies on educating the blind more than their native Holland.

"I thought of them as beautiful works of art," he said.

Now Vermeij is best known for his work highlighting the impact of competition among species in evolution.

Drinking a specially-made cocoa beverage daily may have the potential to reverse impairments in the functioning of blood vessels, according to a first-of-its-kind study published in the Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology. The cocoa used in the study was rich in flavanols, naturally-occurring compounds abundant in freshly harvested cocoa prior to their destruction during the typical processing and manufacture of cocoa and chocolate products.

These results suggest this flavanol-rich cocoa could have important implications for cardiovascular health since reduced endothelial function is recognized as an early stage in blood vessel diseases such as atherosclerosis.

Ever since the logical positivists in the early 20th century, there has been a debate over whether science has made metaphysics obsolete. Is science all we need to describe and understand the ultimate meaning of reality? Even those who consider themselves philosophers of science can't agree on the answer to this question.