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News Bytes of the Week—Bras fail bounce test

Brilliant parrot passes, nonstick chewing gum and more…

Taming the Baywatch effect
A new study finds that breasts move up and down as much as eight inches during exercise—far more than ordinary bras are equipped to handle. Snicker if you must, but for researcher Joanna Scurr of the University of Portsmouth in England, it's serious business. She recruited 70 women with bra sizes ranging from A to JJ (no, that's not a typo) and measured their breast motions in three dimensions as they walked, jogged or ran. Contrary to popular opinion, bras that cradled each breast separately stilled movement better than single-piece or compression bras—for all breast sizes, not just larger ones. Scurr said in a statement that she wants to bring much needed science, not to mention a woman's touch, to bra design. "Sports science has always been dominated by men, and for them," she said. "Studying breasts is seen as slightly laughable." Women, however, "can see the benefits." (press release; British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences)

Appreciation: Alex the parrot
Alex, the academic African gray parrot who learned to speak more than 100 words, count to six and identify a dozen shapes and colors, died last week of seemingly natural causes at the age of 31, shy of his breed's average 50-year life span. Maybe he was drained from years of research that gave new meaning to "bird brain," arguably elevating his fine, feathered friends to the same cognitive plane as dolphins and chimps. The cagey bird had his doubters, but convinced his handlers that he possessed at least a toddlerlike ability to reason and express emotion, including frustration at nonstop experiments. Among his last words to his owner, Brandeis University researcher Irene Pepperberg: "You be good. I love you." (The Alex Foundation; New York Times)

Who loves Lucy more?
The bones of Lucy, a 3.2-million-year-old human ancestor unearthed in Ethiopia in 1974, went on display last week at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, the first leg of a six-year U.S. tour. One place the bones won't be heading is the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., which charges the tour violates a 1998 international resolution barring removal of such fragile remains from their country of origin. (Smithsonian; San Antonio Express-News)

Tsunami warning system works
Finally, some "good" disaster news. A $130-million warning system installed after the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that claimed more than 280,000 lives successfully alerted citizens of Indonesia and Malaysia this week about a magnitude 8.4 quake in the Indian Ocean and its aftershocks. The warning system delivered text messages, e-mails and faxes to officials, who relayed word to news media, mosques and volunteers, according to news accounts. The initial quake raised a 10-foot high tsunami that damaged coastal homes but caused no deaths itself, although at least 14 died from quakes on land. Officials caution, however, that the warning system, to be completed in 2008, is not yet fully reliable. (Reuters; AP)

Polar bears on thin ice
Receding Arctic Ocean ice may kill off two thirds or more of the roughly 16,000 existing polar bears by 2050, according to a new forecast by U.S. government researchers. Polar bears, which hunt seals on sea ice in the summer, are predicted to lose at least 42 percent of their Arctic range, leaving populations in northern Canada and western Greenland but wiping them out in Alaska and Russia. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is set to announce in January whether polar bears should be added to the threatened (soon to be endangered) species list. (U.S. Geological Survey; AP)

The perils of popping pills
The number of Americans who have died or suffered severe illness from prescription or over-the-counter medications nearly tripled between 1998 and 2005, a new study has found. Reports of death or injury to the Food and Drug Administration shot up from 34,966 to 89,842 during the study period. Among the offending drugs, the Associated Press notes: the painkiller Oxycontin, arthritis drugs Vioxx and Remicade and the antidepressant Paxil. (Archives of Internal Medicine; AP)

Antimatter laser draws nearer
Attention, sci-fi nerds. Researchers have finally achieved an elusive state of matter—or rather, matter-antimatter—bringing them a step closer to more powerful lasers capable of sparking fusion reactions. The substance, called di-positronium, consists of pairs of linked positronium, atomlike objects made of an electron fused with a positron, its antimatter counterpart. When matter and antimatter meet head on, they annihilate each other and release gamma rays, which at high enough levels might serve as the basis for a laser—although di-positronium also sounds like a fine name for starship fuel. (Nature; editorial)

Russia to U.S.: Any bomb you can make, we can make bigger
In other explosive news, Russia's military this week announced it had tested what it claimed to be the largest nonnuclear bomb ever detonated. So-called thermobaric, or fuel-air bombs ignite the oxygen in the surrounding air and were used during the Vietnam War to clear jungle for helicopter landings. The Russians dubbed their explosive the "father of all bombs," a jab at the previous record holder, a U.S. weapon nicknamed the "mother of all bombs." (The Guardian)

Oh what a tangled (giant) web they weave
An enormous spider web that once spanned 200 yards of trail at Lake Tawakoni State Park in Texas is an unusual collaborative effort spun by thousands of spiders of many species, scientists said this week. Heavy rains and the resulting bloom of mosquitoes encouraged normally solitary spiders, in particular the orb-weaver family Tetragnathidae, to join forces. Winds and rain have torn the web down several times, but the spiders keep rebuilding, according to news reports. (AP; Fort Worth Star-Telegram; Texas Entomology)

Bubble fusion still roiling
Allegations of misconduct against a physicist who claimed to produce nuclear fusion in a beaker "merit further investigation," according to a statement this week by Purdue University. Five years ago, nuclear engineer Rusi Taleyarkhan announced he had achieved "bubble fusion" by blasting liquid with ultrasound, but other researchers suspected fraud when they were unable to replicate his work. A Purdue panel last year cleared Taleyarkhan of wrongdoing, but a House of Representatives subcommittee this May criticized the investigation, prompting a fresh look. (Purdue University)

Road ready: nonstick chewing gum
A new nonstick chewing gum that dissolves in water may soon grace store shelves, but you won't find it on pavement. British researchers chewed regular gum and Rev-7, the nonstick gum they plan to market, and stuck each one to paving stones at six locations in England and Wales. Whereas most normal gum wads stuck around for more than a week, Rev-7 dissolved within a day. Unfortunately, the magic ingredient, a polymer that sticks to water, still clings to leather-soled shoes. (BA Festival of Science; Revolymer)

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