Nautical Spring Styles: let the countdown begin!

OMGOSH I CAN’T WAIT FOR SPRING. No, seriously. This winter has been brutal, right?!?!?! 27 DAYS TILL SPRING, but who’s counting We’re usually looking at dead grass, which isn’t pretty, but this winter we haven’t seen the grass at all. Not since before Christmas! We’re just buried over here and when you have two toddlers at home…. phew. That’s all I have to say To get me through this cold weather, I’ve been thinking about spring… planning what I want to do outside once the weather is finally nice enough, looking at old photos of summer fun, working out to get in better shape, and–of course–shopping for new clothes! I’ve been scoping out some spring styles. Remember those huge catalogs your mom would get when you were a …

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Do you have a sweet tooth? Honeybees have a sweet claw

New research on the ability of honeybees to taste with claws on their forelegs reveals details on how this information is processed, according to a study published in the open-access journal, Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience.Insects taste through sensilla, hair-like structures on the body that contain receptor nerve cells, each of which is sensitive to a particular substance. In many insects, for example the honeybee, sensilla are found on the mouthparts, antenna and the tarsi — the end part of the legs. Honeybees weigh information from both front tarsi to decide whether to feed, finds the latest study led by Dr. Gabriela de Brito Sanchez, researcher, University of Toulouse, and Dr. Martin Giurfa, Director of the Research Centre on Animal Cognition, University of Toulouse, France.Hundreds of honeybees were included in the study. Sugary, bitter and salty solutions were applied to the tarsi of the forelegs to test if this stimulated the bees to extend or retract their tongue — reflex actions that indicate whether or not they like the taste and are preparing to drink. Results revealed that honeybee tarsi are highly sensitive to sugar: even dilute sucrose solutions prompted the bees to extend their tongue. Measurements of nerve cell activity showed that the part of the honeybee tarsus most sensitive to sugary tastes is the double claw at its end. Also, the segments of the tarsus before the claws, known as the tarsomeres, were found to be highly sensitive to saline solutions.”Honeybees rely on their color vision, memory, and sense of smell and taste to find nectar and pollen in the ever-changing environment around the colony,” says Dr. Giurfa. …

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‘Traffic-light’ labeling increases attention to nutritional quality of food choices

Oct. 17, 2013 — A simple, color-coded system for labeling food items in a hospital cafeteria appears to have increased customer’s attention to the healthiness of their food choices, along with encouraging purchases of the most healthy items. In their report in the October issue of Preventive Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) investigators describe customer responses to surveys taken before and after the 2010 implementation of a system using green, yellow or red “traffic light” labels to reflect the nutritional quality of items.”Several small, experimental studies have suggested that ‘traffic light’ labels can be an effective method of promoting healthier choices, but there have been few real-world studies of customers’ perceptions and purchasing behaviors in response to this type of labeling,” explains Lillian Sonnenberg, DSc, RD, LDN, MGH Nutrition and Food Service, the corresponding author of the current report. “Our results suggest that these labels are an effective method for conveying information about healthy and unhealthy choices and for prompting changes in purchasing behavior.”While many restaurants and other food service locations are now posting the calorie content of their standard items and make detailed information — such as fat, cholesterol and sodium content — available on request, the researchers note that interpreting this information requires knowledge and skills that many do not possess. To find a simpler way to encourage more healthful purchases at the hospital’s food service locations, MGH Nutrition and Food Service put together a plan that started with color-coding each item sold in the main cafeteria — green for the healthiest items, such as fruits, vegetables and lean meats; yellow for less healthy items, and red for those with little or no nutritional value. Signage encouraged frequent purchase of green items, less frequent for yellow and discouraged purchase of red items. Cafeteria cash registers were programmed to record each purchased item as green, yellow or red, starting three months before the labeling intervention began.Previous reports from the MGH team have described how the program — a second phase of which included rearranging items in refrigerators to bring healthy choices to eye level — increased sales of green items while decreasing purchase of red items. The current paper reports results of a survey taken during the month before and the two months after the labeling intervention began in March 2010. Research coordinators approached customers who had just made purchases and asked them to participate in the brief survey. Participants were asked whether they had noticed any nutritional information in the cafeteria or on food labels, which factors most influenced their purchases, how often they consider nutrition information before making food choices, and how often they “choose food that is healthy.” After introduction of the color-coded labels, respondents were also asked whether they had noticed the labels and if the labels had influenced their purchases.During the baseline period before the labeling intervention, 204 individuals completed the survey, and 243 did so in the weeks following. …

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Incoming comet ISON appears intact to NASA’s hubble

Oct. 17, 2013 — A new image of the sunward plunging Comet ISON suggests that the comet is intact despite some predictions that the fragile icy nucleus might disintegrate as the Sun warms it. The comet will pass closest to the Sun on November 28.Share This:In this NASA Hubble Space Telescope image taken on October 9, the comet’s solid nucleus is unresolved because it is so small. If the nucleus broke apart then Hubble would have likely seen evidence for multiple fragments.Moreover, the coma or head surrounding the comet’s nucleus is symmetric and smooth. This would probably not be the case if clusters of smaller fragments were flying along. What’s more, a polar jet of dust first seen in Hubble images taken in April is no longer visible and may have turned off.This color composite image was assembled using two filters. The comet’s coma appears cyan, a greenish-blue color due to gas, while the tail is reddish due to dust streaming off the nucleus. The tail forms as dust particles are pushed away from the nucleus by the pressure of sunlight. The comet was inside Mars’ orbit and 177 million miles from Earth when photographed. Comet ISON is predicted to make its closest approach to Earth on December 26, at a distance of 39.9 million miles.Share this story on Facebook, Twitter, and Google:Other social bookmarking and sharing tools:|Story Source: The above story is based on materials provided by Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI). …

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A week’s worth of camping synchs internal clock to sunrise and sunset

Aug. 1, 2013 — Spending just one week exposed only to natural light while camping in the Rocky Mountains was enough to synch the circadian clocks of eight people participating in a University of Colorado Boulder study with the timing of sunrise and sunset.The study, published online today in the journal Current Biology, found that the synchronization happened in that short period of time for all participants, regardless of whether they were early birds or night owls during their normal lives.”What’s remarkable is how, when we’re exposed to natural sunlight, our clocks perfectly become in synch in less than a week to the solar day,” said CU-Boulder integrative physiology Professor Kenneth Wright, who led the study.Electrical lighting, which became widely available in the 1930s, has affected our internal circadian clocks, which tell our bodies when to prepare for sleep and when to prepare for wakefulness. The ability to flip a switch and flood a room with light allows humans to be exposed to light much later into the night than would be possible naturally.Even when people are exposed to electrical lights during daylight hours, the intensity of indoor lighting is much less than sunlight and the color of electrical light also differs from natural light, which changes shade throughout the day.To quantify the effects of electrical lighting, a research team led by Wright, who also is the director of CU-Boulder’s Sleep and Chronobiology Laboratory, monitored eight participants for one week as they went about their normal daily lives. The participants wore wrist monitors that recorded the intensity of light they were exposed to, the timing of that light, and their activity, which allowed the researchers to infer when they were sleeping.At the end of the week, the researchers also recorded the timing of participants’ circadian clocks in the laboratory by measuring the presence of the hormone melatonin. The release of melatonin is one of the ways our bodies signal the onset of our biological nighttime. Melatonin levels decrease again at the start of our biological daytime.The same metrics were recorded during and after a second week when the eight participants — six men and two women with a mean age of 30 — went camping in Colorado’s Eagles Nest Wilderness. During the week, the campers were exposed only to sunlight and the glow of a campfire. Flashlights and personal electronic devices were not allowed.On average, participants’ biological nighttimes started about two hours later when they were exposed to electrical lights than after a week of camping. During the week when participants went about their normal lives, they also woke up before their biological night had ended.After the camping trip — when study subjects were exposed to four times the intensity of light compared with their normal lives — participants’ biological nighttimes began near sunset and ended at sunrise. They also woke up just after their biological night had ended. …

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Give them a hand: Gesturing children perform well on cognitive tasks

July 26, 2013 — In the first study of its kind, SF State researchers have shown that younger children who use gestures outperform their peers in a problem-solving task.The task itself is relatively simple — sorting cards printed with colored shapes first by color, and then by shape. But the switch from color to shape can be tricky for children younger than 5, says Professor of Psychology Patricia Miller.In a new study due to be published in the August, 2013 issue of Developmental Psychology, Miller and SF State graduate student Gina O’Neill found that young children who gesture are more likely to make the mental switch and group the shapes accurately.In fact, gesturing seemed to trump age when it came to the sorting performance of the children, who ranged from 2 and a half years old to 5 years old. In the color versus shape task, as well as one that asked children to sort pictures based on size and spatial orientation, younger children who gestured often were more accurate in their choices than older children who gestured less. The children’s gestures included rotating their hands to show the orientation of a card or using their hands to illustrate the image on the card, for example gesturing the shape of rabbits’ ears for a card depicting a rabbit.”Gina and I were surprised by the strength of the effect. Still, the findings are consistent with a growing body of research showing that mind and body work closely together in early cognitive development,” Miller said.”The findings are a reminder of how strong individual differences are among children of a particular age,” she added. “Certain 3-year-olds look like typical 4-year-olds. This likely reflects an interaction of natural talent and particular experiences — both nature and nurture, as usual.”There is a growing body of research that suggests gesturing may play a significant role in the processes that people use to solve a problem or achieve a goal. These processes include holding information in memory, keeping the brain from choosing a course too quickly and being flexible in adding new or different information to handle a task.Studies have shown that gesturing can help older children learn new math concepts, for example. “Really, though, there is evidence that gesturing helps with difficult cognitive tasks at any age,” Miller said. “Even we adults sometimes gesture when we’re trying to organize our tax receipts or our closets. …

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Purple bacteria on Earth could survive alien light

July 23, 2013 — Purple bacteria contain pigments that allow them to use sunlight as their source of energy, hence their color. Small as they are, these microbes can teach us a lot about life on Earth, because they have been around longer than most other organisms on the planet. University of Miami (UM) physicist Neil Johnson, who studies purple bacteria, recently found that these organisms can also survive in the presence of extreme alien light. The findings show that the way in which light is received by the bacteria can dictate the difference between life and death.Johnson, head of the inter-disciplinary research group in complexity in the College of Arts and Sciences at UM and his collaborators share their findings in a paper titled “Extreme alien light allows survival of terrestrial bacteria” published online in Nature’s Scientific Reports. The study reveals new possibilities for life on earth and elsewhere in the universe.”The novelty of our work is that despite all the effort aimed at finding planets outside our solar system where life might exist, people have ignored the fact that photosynthesis–and hence life on Earth– isn’t just about having the right atmosphere and light intensity,” Johnson says. “Instead, as we show, a crucial missing ingredient is how the light arrives at the organism.”The results are also applicable in the scenario of our own sun developing extreme fluctuations and in a situation in which bacteria are subject to extreme artificial light sources in the laboratory.The findings may also help with engineering a new generation of designer-light-harvesting structures.Using a mathematical model the researchers calculated the probability of survival when the bacteria is subjected to bursts of light, similar to what might be experienced if the light source was an unstable star. The flow of light was on average the same as the bacteria would normally receive, but since they would be receiving it in such a strange way, the researchers wondered under what situations the bacteria could survive.”It’s like saying we know we need to bring home a certain amount of food per week, but what happens if all of the food is delivered in one day? You might not be able to store all of it,” Johnson says. “Maybe some food would get spoiled, or maybe you wouldn’t have time to use it all,” he says. “The light is like food for the bacteria, and the issue is the amount of food and the timing with which you bring it in.”Light comes in packets of photons. …

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NASA releases images of Earth by two interplanetary spacecraft

July 22, 2013 — Color and black-and-white images of Earth taken by two NASA interplanetary spacecraft on July 19 show our planet and its moon as bright beacons from millions of miles away in space.NASA’s Cassini spacecraft captured the color images of Earth and the moon from its perch in the Saturn system nearly 900 million miles (1.5 billion kilometers) away. MESSENGER, the first probe to orbit Mercury, took a black-and-white image from a distance of 61 million miles (98 million kilometers) as part of a campaign to search for natural satellites of the planet.In the Cassini images Earth and the moon appear as mere dots — Earth a pale blue and the moon a stark white, visible between Saturn’s rings. It was the first time Cassini’s highest-resolution camera captured Earth and its moon as two distinct objects.It also marked the first time people on Earth had advance notice their planet’s portrait was being taken from interplanetary distances. NASA invited the public to celebrate by finding Saturn in their part of the sky, waving at the ringed planet and sharing pictures over the Internet. More than 20,000 people around the world participated.”We can’t see individual continents or people in this portrait of Earth, but this pale blue dot is a succinct summary of who we were on July 19,” said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist, at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “Cassini’s picture reminds us how tiny our home planet is in the vastness of space, and also testifies to the ingenuity of the citizens of this tiny planet to send a robotic spacecraft so far away from home to study Saturn and take a look-back photo of Earth.”Pictures of Earth from the outer solar system are rare because from that distance, Earth appears very close to our sun. A camera’s sensitive detectors can be damaged by looking directly at the sun, just as a human being can damage his or her retina by doing the same. Cassini was able to take this image because the sun had temporarily moved behind Saturn from the spacecraft’s point of view and most of the light was blocked.A wide-angle image of Earth will become part of a multi-image picture, or mosaic, of Saturn’s rings, which scientists are assembling. This image is not expected to be available for several weeks because of the time-consuming challenges involved in blending images taken in changing geometry and at vastly different light levels, with faint and extraordinarily bright targets side by side.”It thrills me to no end that people all over the world took a break from their normal activities to go outside and celebrate the interplanetary salute between robot and maker that these images represent,” said Carolyn Porco, Cassini imaging team lead at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo. “The whole event underscores for me our ‘coming of age’ as planetary explorers.”In the MESSENGER image, Earth and the moon are less than a pixel, but appear very large because they are overexposed. …

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Cutlery: Do size, weight, shape and color matter?

June 26, 2013 — The appearance of cutlery can affect perception of a food’s taste, reports BioMed Central’s open access journal Flavour. Food tastes saltier when eaten from a knife, and denser and more expensive from a light plastic spoon. Taste was also affected by the color of the cutlery.The crockery we use has been shown to alter our perception of food and drink. Beverages in cold colored glasses were rated more refreshing and the weight and color of a plate can alter how dense, salty or sweet food tastes. In this study, researchers from the University of Oxford demonstrated that cutlery can also have an impact on how we experience food.They found that when the weight of the cutlery confirms expectations (e.g. a plastic spoon is light), yoghurt seemed denser and more expensive. Color contrast is also an important factor: white yoghurt when eaten from a white spoon was rated sweeter, more liked, and more expensive than pink-colored yoghurt. These effects were reversed for yoghurt tasted from a black spoon, which suggests that color contrast mediates the effects of cutlery on flavor perception. Similarly, when offered cheese on a knife, spoon, fork or toothpick, the cheese from a knife tasted saltiest.Dr Vanessa Harrar and Prof Charles Spence, who performed this study, explain, “How we experience food is a multisensory experience involving taste, feel of the food in our mouths, aroma, and the feasting of our eyes. Even before we put food into our mouths our brains have made a judgment about it, which affects our overall experience.”Vanessa Harrar continued, “Subtly changing eating implements and tableware can affect how pleasurable, or filling, food appears. …

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Was prehistoric rock art strategically placed to reveal a cosmological puzzle?

June 19, 2013 — It is likely some of the most widespread and oldest art in the United States. Pieces of rock art dot the Appalachian Mountains, and research by University of Tennessee, Knoxville, anthropology professor Jan Simek finds each engraving or drawing is strategically placed to reveal a cosmological puzzle.Recently, the discoveries of prehistoric rock art have become more common. With these discoveries comes a single giant one — all these drawing and engravings map the prehistoric peoples’ cosmological world.The research led by Simek, president emeritus of the UT system and a distinguished professor of science, is published in this month’s edition of the journal Antiquity. The paper is co-authored by Nick Herrmann of Mississippi State University, Alan Cressler of the U.S. Geological Survey and Sarah Sherwood of The University of the South.The researchers proposed that rock art changed the natural landscape to reflect a three-dimensional universe central to the religion of the prehistoric Mississippian period.”Our findings provide a window into what Native American societies were like beginning more than 6,000 years ago,” said Simek. “They tell us that the prehistoric peoples in the Cumberland Plateau, a section of the Appalachian Mountains, used the rather distinctive upland environment to map their conceptual universe onto the natural world in which they lived.”Simek and his team analyzed 44 open- air art sites where the art is exposed to light and 50 cave art sites in the Cumberland Plateau using nondestructive, high-tech tools, such as a high-resolution laser scanner. Through analysis of the depictions, colors, and spatial organization, they found that the sites mimic the Southeastern native people’s cosmological principles.”The cosmological divisions of the universe were mapped onto the physical landscape using the relief of the Cumberland Plateau as a topographic canvas,” said Simek.The “upper world” included celestial bodies and weather forces personified in mythic characters that exerted influences on the human situation. Mostly open-air art sites located in high elevations touched by the sun and stars feature these images. Many of the images are drawn in the color red, which was associated with life.The “middle world” represented the natural world. A mixture of open air and cave art sites hug the middle of the plateau and feature images of people, plants and animals of mostly secular character.The “lower world” was characterized by darkness and danger, and was associated with death, transformation and renewal. …

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