More Groovy Science 4

Hello everyone! Here is more science to tantalize your synapses and neurons!

  • Keep Your Fingers Crossed: How Superstition Improves Performance

  • More Than Half the World's Population Gets Insufficient Vitamin D, Says Biochemist

  • Low Vitamin D Levels Associated With Cognitive Decline

  • Team Develops Non-Toxic Oil Recovery Agent

  • Smoking Mind Over Smoking Matter: Surprising New Study Shows Cigarette Cravings Result from Habit, Not Addiction

  • Light and Moderate Physical Activity Reduces the Risk of Early Death

  • New Antibacterial Material for Bandages, Food Packaging, Shoes

  • A Blood Test for Depression?

  • 3-D Gesture-Based Interaction System Unveiled

Keep Your Fingers Crossed: How Superstition Improves Performance: New research shows that having some kind of lucky token can actually improve your performance -- by increasing your self-confidence. ...Volunteers who had their lucky charm did better at a memory game on the computer, and other tests showed that this difference was because they felt more confident. They also set higher goals for themselves. Just wishing someone good luck -- with "I press the thumbs for you," the German version of crossing your fingers -- improved volunteers' success at a task that required manual dexterity.

~Of course, this is still a form of delusion. Everyone tested in the study was superstitious and had a lucky charm. I'd like to see a study or two that involved people who don't rely on superstition as well. I think if a person understands the delusion of superstition, they will therefore not need the "lucky" feather in their cap. They will have appropriate self-confidence based on their actual abilities. Still, it's an interesting study.

More Than Half the World's Population Gets Insufficient Vitamin D, Says Biochemist: Half the people in North America and Western Europe get insufficient amounts of vitamin D. "Elsewhere, it is worse, given that two-thirds of the people are vitamin D-insufficient or deficient. It is clear that merely eating vitamin D-rich foods is not adequate to solve the problem for most adults." Currently, the recommended daily intake of vitamin D is 200 international units (IU) for people up to 50 years old; 400 IU for people 51 to 70 years old; and 600 IU for people over 70 years old.
"There is a wide consensus among scientists that the relative daily intake of vitamin D should be increased to 2,000 to 4,000 IU for most adults," Norman says. "A 2000 IU daily intake can be achieved by a combination of sunshine, food, supplements, and possibly even limited tanning exposure." While there is now abundant data on vitamin D and its benefits, Norman believes there is room for more study.
Because vitamin D is found in very few foods naturally (e.g. fish, eggs and cod liver oil) other foods such as milk, orange juice, some yogurts and some breakfast foods are fortified with it. The fortification levels aim at about 400 IU per day.

Low Vitamin D Levels Associated With Cognitive Decline: An estimated 40 percent to 100 percent of older adults in the United States and Europe are deficient in vitamin D, according to background information in the article. This deficiency has been linked to fractures, various chronic diseases and death. Vitamin D may help prevent the degeneration of brain tissue by having a role in formation of nervous tissue, maintaining levels of calcium in the body, or clearing of beta-amyloid, the substance that forms the brain plaques and tangles associated with Alzheimer's disease.
Editorial: "Vitamin D has been known for many years to play a critical role in skeletal health. More recently, observational studies have reported inverse associations between levels of serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D, the metabolite that best reflects overall vitamin D status, and the risk of a wide range of disease, including cancer, vascular disease, infectious conditions, autoimmune diseases, osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes mellitus and obesity. ...It is now time to test the various hypotheses generated by observational studies of vitamin D in adequately designed and conducted randomized controlled trials."

Team Develops Non-Toxic Oil Recovery Agent: A team of chemists has developed a non-toxic, recyclable agent that can solidify oil on salt water so that it can be scooped up like the fat that forms on the top of a pot of chilled chicken soup. The agent could potentially be used to recover oil lost in the British Petroleum (BP) spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The gelling agent developed by his team is environmentally benign. It uses a sugar-based molecule that can be obtained from renewable sources and is biodegradable. In addition, only a relatively small amount of the agent -- five percent of the volume of the oil being recovered -- is required for the process, which handles a range of oil from crude to vegetable oil, to work.

Smoking Mind Over Smoking Matter: Surprising New Study Shows Cigarette Cravings Result from Habit, Not Addiction: The new study found that the intensity of cravings for cigarettes had more to do with the psychosocial element of smoking than with the physiological effects of nicotine as an addictive chemical. ...Dr. Dar's studies conclude that nicotine is not addictive as physiological addictions are usually defined. While nicotine does have a physiological role in increasing cognitive abilities such as attention and memory, it's not an addictive substance like heroin, which creates true systemic and biologically-based withdrawal symptoms in the body of the user, he says. Dr. Dar believes that people who smoke do so for short-term benefits like oral gratification, sensory pleasure and social camaraderie. Once the habit is established, people continue to smoke in response to cues and in situations that become associated with smoking. Dr. Dar believes that understanding smoking as a habit, not an addiction, will facilitate treatment. Smoking cessation techniques should emphasize the psychological and behavioral aspects of the habit and not the biological aspects, he suggests.

Light and Moderate Physical Activity Reduces the Risk of Early Death: A new study has found that even light or moderate intensity physical activity, such as walking or cycling, can substantially reduce the risk of early death. the largest health benefits from light or moderate activity (such as walking and cycling) were in people who do hardly any physical activity at all. Although more activity is better -- the benefits of even a small amount of physical activity are very large in the least physically active.
The good news from this study is that you don't have to be an exercise freak to benefit from physical activity. Just achieving the recommended levels of physical activity (equivalent to 30 minutes daily of moderate intensity activity on 5 days a week) reduces the risk of death by 19%, while 7 hours per week of moderate activity (compared with no activity) reduces the risk of death by 24%. "This research confirms that is not just exercising hard that is good for you but even moderate everyday activities, like walking and cycling, can have major health benefits. Just walking to the shops or walking the children to school can lengthen your life -- as well as bringing other benefits for well-being and the environment."

New Antibacterial Material for Bandages, Food Packaging, Shoes: A new form of paper with the built-in ability to fight disease-causing bacteria could have applications that range from anti-bacterial bandages to food packaging that keeps food fresher longer to shoes that ward off foot odor. ...They made sheets of paper from graphene oxide, and then tried to grow bacteria and human cells on top. Bacteria were unable to grow on the paper, and it had little adverse effect on human cells.

A Blood Test for Depression? Researchers evaluated blood gene expression profiles in healthy individuals and patients diagnosed with major depressive disorder, or MDD. They identified a set of seven genes in whole blood that was able to distinguish un-medicated MDD patients from healthy controls. "This is a first, but major step in providing a molecular diagnostic tool for depression." Although psychiatry already has specific criteria for diagnosing mental health disorders, this type of diagnosis would be unbiased and particularly valuable for those with whom it is more difficult to have a conversation. It may also eventually assist in reducing the stigma associated with mental health problems.

3-D Gesture-Based Interaction System Unveiled: Scientists have developed the next generation non-contact gesture and finger recognition system. The novel system detects hand and finger positions in real-time and translates these into appropriate interaction commands. Furthermore, the system does not require special gloves or markers and is capable of supporting multiple users. This system detects multiple fingers and hands at the same time and allows the user to interact with objects on a display. The users move their hands and fingers in the air and the system automatically recognizes and interprets the gestures accordingly.
Cinemagoers will remember the science-fiction thriller Minority Report from 2002 which starred Tom Cruise. In this film Tom Cruise is in a 3-D software arena and is able to interact with numerous programs at unimaginable speed, however the system used special gloves and only three fingers from each hand.
The FIT prototype provides the next generation of gesture-based interaction far in advance of the Minority Report system. The FIT prototype tracks the user's hand in front of a 3-D camera. The 3-D camera uses the time of flight principle, in this approach each pixel is tracked and the length of time it takes light to be filmed travelling to and from the tracked object is determined. This allows for the calculation of the distance between the camera and the tracked object.
"A special image analysis algorithm was developed which filters out the positions of the hands and fingers. This is achieved in real-time through the use of intelligent filtering of the incoming data. The raw data can be viewed as a kind of 3-D mountain landscape, with the peak regions representing the hands or fingers." In addition plausibility criteria are used, these are based around: the size of a hand, finger length and the potential coordinates.
A user study was conducted and found that the system both easy to use and fun. However, work remains to be done on removing elements which confuses the system, for example reflections caused by wristwatches and palms which are positioned orthogonal to the camera.
"With Microsoft announcing Project Natal, it is likely that similar techniques will very soon become standard across the gaming industry. This technology also opens up the potential for new solutions in the range of other application domains, such as the exploration of complex simulation data and for new forms of learning."


  1. Sounds like it's time to buy some vitamin D supplements.

  2. Yeah, it seems like it would be a good idea. I got some after several other studies caught my eye awhile ago. I hardly ever go outside so I'm pretty sure I am deficient.
    The "right" way to do it is to go to the doctor and get a vitamin D blood test before taking anything though.

  3. I used to go outside more (or not necessarily outside, but into the sun rather than the shade), but my wife is fair-skinned, so she burns rather quickly. I tan less now. Although I was never one of those insanely tanned people, as far as skin cancer concerns go I don't mind being a little whiter in summer than I used to be.

    I don't think my insurance covers blood tests unless you're pregnant, and I'm not too big on whipping out 50 Euro or more for something that takes only a couple of minutes. :P Given what the summary you linked to says we're both pretty much guaranteed not to have enough of it right now, at any rate. I perhaps slightly less so because I eat fish every now and then, but that's certainly not a regular thing.

    Anyway, my point was that I was already thinking about going into the sun more or some such before reading this. ;)

  4. Well Frans, I have my own reasons for avoiding a blood test, which would be $50 US and my fear and hatred of needles. :P
    For you, why don't you just get pregnant? Then you can get the blood test for free? (HAHA!) ;)

    I think you're right. I started taking a vitamin D supplement the other day. I think if you take a moderate dose it is probably going to help.

    One thing to note, which you probably know already, there have been several studies that have shown that mega doses of vitamins are harmful, so don't overdo it.

  5. Yeah, I know. Too little is bad, too much is bad... it's a though balance!

    I also utterly despise needles. It's a semi-irrational thing. I've been hurt real bad by a needle in the past (I could barely use my arm for two weeks, and then when I thought it was all better again because I didn't feel it anymore eventually I did a handstand and I fainted from the pain). I say semi-irrational because obviously my dislike of needles is based on a rather bad experience, but I do know that it's not a regular thing. Anyway, I'll accept needles if they're necessary, but I certainly won't seek them out.