Science + Health
The ear has a range that no other sense can match, whether biological or electrically engineered. The ear can hear sounds as soft as a whisper and as loud as an explosion, a sensory range spanning six orders of magnitude. While this ability continues to baffle scientists, Manfred Auer of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has for the first time developed a three-dimensional model of the molecules that allow us to hear.
It’s that all-important third date, the one where she’s ready to tell you everything, even that embarrassing story about her ex. Just as she begins to talk, the group of advertising executives at the table to your right gets animated, while the waiter on your left begins a lengthy recitation of the daily specials. You lean in and manage to hear her every word. But you remember nothing.
Thanks to the Back to Sleep educational campaign, most parents are now aware that babies should sleep on their backs to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), the third leading cause of infant mortality. New research finds that having a fan on in the room may also be beneficial. The findings were published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine and are based on a study funded by the National Institutes of Health, with additional support from Kaiser Permanente.
If everyone painted their rooftops white, it would go a long way to turning down the global thermostat.
A linguist and a physicist walking into a room may sound like the start of a joke, but there’s nothing funny about the collaboration between Carl Haber, a physicist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and Berkeley linguist Andrew Garrett. The two are capturing and restoring sound from wax cylinders at the Hearst Museum of Anthropology.
More than a century ago, H.G. Wells told the fictional tale of Griffin, a gifted medical student who managed to make himself disappear. Griffin became the Invisible Man by tinkering with his body’s refractive index, the measure of how light is deflected off an object. Last fall, Berkeley researchers announced the development of new materials that have revolutionary refractive properties, bringing the prospect of invisibility from the pages of science fiction to the pages of science journals.
Years of drought across much of California brought a fast and furious start to the 2008 fire season. At one point in June, more than 2,000 fires were burning in the state. Wildfire is a natural, and vital, part of California’s ecosystems, and as more people move in to areas prone to burning, says Professor Scott Stephens of Berkeley’s Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, we need to find ways to both actively manage and coexist with it.
Experience has shown us where there’s sugar, there’s usually ants. But Berkeley biologist Robert Dudley and his colleagues found that in inland areas, ants swarmed to salt solutions in preference to sugar, their basic food. The study suggests that the availability of sodium could be what limits plant-eating ant populations globally.
For those with a refined punchline palate, Jester, the Online Joke Recommender, is a dream come true. The website’s premise is simple: Read eight jokes and rate them according to how funny you find them. After that, Jester will begin suggesting new material tailored to your tastes. Whether you’re a fan of shaggy-dog yarns or snappy one-liners, you’ll find plenty of material for your next social gathering or paper presentation.
Natalie Batalha’s worst enemy is the clock. Installed around the corner from her office at NASA Ames Research Center, a looming LED display is counting the days, hours, minutes and seconds until the launch of the Kepler Mission: NASA’s first attempt to find habitable Earth-like planets in our galaxy.
“It’s terrible,” says Batalha ’89, who has been working on the mission for eight years. “It recently rolled over from 300 to 299, and I could just feel my blood pressure rising.”
In Kenya, it seems everyone has a favorite Laurence Frank story.
In his book, A Primate’s Memoir, baboon researcher Robert Sapolsky recalls encountering Frank in the Maasai Mara in southwestern Kenya. Sapolsky describes Frank as “Laurence of the Hyenas,” a wild man who stalks through the bush at night, oblivious to danger, using infrared vision goggles to study large carnivores.
In June, U.S. space scientists announced “with great pride and a lot of joy,” that they had spotted frozen water—ice—in robotic images from the surface of Mars. The discovery confirmed a scientific prediction by a Berkeley chemist nearly 40 years ago. Mars is wet. Oddly, he based the prediction on a totally erroneous observation.