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See Inside May 2007

News Scan Briefs

COGNITION
Rat-Think
Rats have a complex form of thought once known only in humans and other primates--specifically, metacognition, or the ability to mull over what one knows. Scientists at the University of Georgia gave rats a choice to either take a test or not. Passing the test resulted in a large food reward, failure yielded nothing, and opting out altogether led to a small reward....

PATTERNS
Medieval Quasicrystals
In designing architectural structures, medieval Islamic artisans hit on so-called quasicrystals, a complex pattern made famous by renowned mathematician Roger Penrose in the 1970s. After seeing hints of the pattern while traveling in Uzbekistan, Peter J. Lu, a physics graduate student at Harvard University, pored over photographs from Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Afghanistan. Some of the ornate tile work, called girih, could have only been accurately constructed using a set of five tiles--a bow tie, pentagon, diamond, elongated hexagon and large decagon--conclude Lu and co-author Paul J. Steinhardt of Princeton University....

PHYSICS
Spooky Action at a Greater Distance
The quantum link called entanglement keeps getting longer--in the latest demonstration, the distance spanned two of Spain's Canary Islands. When two photons are entangled, what happens to one instantaneously determines the fate of the other, no matter how far apart they are. Using a laser, Anton Zeilinger of the University of Vienna and his team created entangled pairs of photons on the island of La Palma and then fired one member of each pair to a telescope on Tenerife, 144 kilometers away....

OPTICS
No Glare There
Researchers have created a coating that reflects almost no light, thanks to a refractive index close to that of air. A material's index of refraction refers to the speed of light in that substance, which in turn governs how much light bends when it passes into the substance. The new material consists of angled nanorods laid on top of a transparent semiconductor wafer....

MEMORY
Sweet (Scented) Dreams
A night on a bed of roses could sharpen your memory. The purpose of sleep remains a mystery, but one idea is that slumber replays new experiences to facilitate their inclusion in long-term memory storage. To explore this notion, volunteers in a rose-scented room played a computer version of the card game Memory, where they had to remember locations of paired cards that flashed on the screen for a few seconds at a time....

METEOROLOGY
Drought-Making Pollutants
Tiny particles resulting from fuel burning appear to be interfering with the formation of rain, snow and ice on one of China's mountains. As aerosols increase in the atmosphere, fewer droplets collide with one another to form raindrops. Atmospheric scientists studied records from the past 50 years at a meteor?ological observatory that sits at the peak of sacred Mount Hua....

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