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Why Our Voices Are Unique

We can usually recognize friends and acquaintances by their voices.  If we all have the same hardware, though, how is this possible?  The answer is in the vortex.  Sounds sci-fi, but researchers at the University of Cincinnati used knowledge of jet engines to explore the possibility that vortices may help solve the mysteries of the […]

The Amazing Pigeon Techno-Beak

How do homing pigeons find home?  Scientists at University of Frankfurt may have found the answer: magnetic minerals in their beaks.  A press release from Springer Publications describes the amazing pigeon techno-beak: In histological and physicochemical examinations in collaboration with HASYLAB, the synchrotron laboratories based in Hamburg, Germany, iron-containing subcellular particles of maghemite and magnetite […]

Music Can Make You Smarter

Musical training in childhood can help one develop better language processing skills, reports a news item on EurekAlert.  Scientists at Northwestern University found that English-speaking adults who had musical training were better able to track intonations of Chinese tonal words than those who did not have such training.     The study contradicted an evolutionary […]

Turtles Hurtle Through the Sea Magnetically

Experiments on sea turtles have shown that they follow the earth’s magnetic field to the exact beach where they were born to lay their eggs.  “It is almost as if they were equipped with a compass pointing towards the beach in question,” says an article on EurekAlert.  “So they can correct any deflection they are […]

The Moth in Spider’s Clothing

National Geographic News has a picture story about a moth that mimics a jumping spider.  It appears to work.  Scientists staged a battle royale between contestants of mimics and non-mimics in the ring with their jumping spider enemies, and the mimics won hands down.  The spiders went for the normal moths 62% of the time, […]

Submarine, Make Like a Fish

Submarine designers are learning a thing or two from fish.  The latest fish trick to imitate is the lateral line: a row of specialized sensors fish have along their flanks.  Fish use these for synchronized swimming and predator avoidance.  EurekAlert reported on work by scientists at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne to build artificial lateral […]

Watch a Ribosome in Action

A remarkable article about a remarkable machine: that’s what Chemical and Engineering News has published about the ribosome, a molecular machine vital to everything alive in the world.  Stu Borman’s article lavishes praise on the details of this assembly-line factory that translates RNA into proteins.  He surveys the history of investigation into the ribosome’s secrets.  […]

Cells Perform Nanomagic

The cell is quicker than the eye of our best scientific instruments.  Biochemists and biophysicists are nearing closer to watching cellular magic tricks in real time but aren’t quite there yet.  They know it’s just a trick of the eye, but it sure is baffling how cellular machines pull off their most amazing feats.  Think, […]

Cells Perform Sporting Interactions

The components of living cells perform such acrobatic moving interactions, one would think they are having fun.  Here’s the news from the Wide World of Cellular Sports. Speedway:  A news release from Penn Medicine talks about how motor proteins step on the gas and the brakes in their motions around the cell.  The announcer from […]

Cell Quality Control Runs a Tight Ship

Without the surveillance and rapid response of quality control, cells would collapse and die.  Here are some recently-published examples of nanoheroes in action. Plant checkpoints:  Picture a child watching the wonder of a seedling breaking through the soil into the light for the first time.  Within hours, the ghostly-white stem turns green, and a day […]

Squid Eye Beats Zeiss

A squid whose scientific name means “vampire from hell” wears specs with excellent specs (that’s lenses with excellent specifications, for the pun-challenged).  Elisabeth Pennisi in Science reported on a talk given at an Arizona science conference about the vampire squid, whose “lenses are designed for seeing details, even in virtual darkness.”  Researchers studying cephalopod eyes […]

Muscles Use Gears, Automatic Transmission

Analogies may not be perfect representations of reality, but it must pique the interest of all of us the way Elisabeth Pennisi in Science1 compared muscle to cars and bicycles: One look at a ballerina as she pirouettes and poses drives home the remarkable ability of our muscles to adapt to diverse biomechanical demands.  Manny […]

Cell Membrane Has Ticket-Operated Turnstiles

Cells are like castles surrounded by walls.  A wall without gates, however, would prevent commerce and trap the inhabitants inside.  The cell has ingenious gates that control the flow of goods and services through its outer membrane under tight surveillance and quality control.  This controlled flow, as opposed to passive diffusion or osmosis, is termed […]

Robot Legs Can’t Keep Up With Animals

Robot designers are envious of animals.  Insects, crabs and lizards leave them in the dust.  Alison Abbott in Nature (Jan 18) described the latest attempts to get the bugs out of insect-imitating “biological robots.”1  “Programming a robot to think like an insect is tough,” the subtitle reads, “but it could help breed machines as manoeuvrable […]

Your Body Knows Its Allies at Gut Level

How come your body doesn’t fight its good bacteria?  It sounds like a question only a scientist or a kid would ask, but think about it.  Your body jumps to arms to fight off pathogens, but lets millions of bacteria live in the intestines.  These bacteria help you digest your food, but are not “you.”  […]
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