Friday, 31 July 2015

The science of fear

A healthy aversion to snakes might be useful in the jungle, but a ramped-up phobia of them that has you running screaming from garden hoses is obviously maladaptive in suburbia. And then there are phobias that seem to lack rational explanation: an aversion to pigeons, avoiding anything to do with the number 13, to fear of the color yellow.

"Fear mechanisms have helped us survive for millions of years," says UC Davis neuroscientist and psychologist Philippe Goldin. But even a natural mechanism can become twisted into something strange.

Where fear lies

The primary seat of fear in the brain lies in the amygdala, two almond-shaped clusters of neurons nestled deep in the temporal lobe. Scientists have found that there are actually two fear-related pathways involving the amygdala — one more direct route from a stimulus, and another, longer way that first passes through the cortex, where much of your higher-order thinking happens.

Either way, tripping the amygdala's alarm "puts you in a mode where you are prepared for action," says Nouchine Hadjikhani, a Harvard University neuroscientist.

(More from World Science Festival: Life in the universe: An optimistic cosmic perspective)

Registering a fear-causing stimulus can happen at lightning speed; Swedish scientist Arne Ohman and colleagues have found that flashing images of snakes or spiders so quickly that people are not consciously aware of seeing a snake or spider can still trigger a fear response. Interestingly, when these high-speed stimuli flash by, people's amygdalas respond equally fearfully to all stimuli — so an arachnophobic person would be equally unnerved by images of spiders and snakes. But when the images are shown slowly enough for people to comprehend them, their amygdala lights up only in response to their specific phobia (spiders, say). Our amygdalas seem to be primed to react quickly to anything that seems threatening, but once there's enough time for other, more sober parts of the brain to weigh in, we can filter out what's not worth getting worked up about.

The pathways leading out of the amygdala lead to lots of other brain regions; one particularly important output for the fear response is the connection to the hypothalamus. This brain region regulates the production and secretion of hormones like adrenaline, a key player in the fight-or-flight response. "The amygdala is one of the most highly interconnected regions of the brain, and that makes sense," Goldin says. "Arousal — positive or negative — activates many different mechanisms."

But there are other brain structures involved in fear, too, as demonstrated by studies of people with a rare genetic disorder called Urbach-Wieth disease, which causes the amygdala to shrivel up. In experiments conducted by University of Iowa researchers, Urbach-Wieth patients were unmoved by horror movies or exposure to large spiders, but did experience terror when they were asked to inhale a carbon dioxide mixture through a mask — which simulates suffocation. Therefore, there must be some amygdala-independent fear pathway; further research is needed to trace that trail through the brain.

(More from World Science Festival: Everything you need to know about Ebola)

How fear takes hold: Through direct association

Just as Pavlov's dogs salivated at the sound of a dinner bell, the power of association can turn even the most relatively innocuous thing into a phobia. Scientists are able to induce phobias of certain sounds or smells in lab rats by administering a painful shock in conjunction with that stimulus. Eventually the rodents are hard-wired to associate that scent or sound with pain, and remain fearful of that trigger.

How fear takes hold: Through indirect association

The process of how phobias form by association in humans is, of course, more subtle than a guy in a lab coat tormenting you. University of North Dakota psychologist Ric Ferraro invites you to consider someone with a phobia of the color green — how could something like that have formed? Any number of ways; it could have been that, as a child, "they could have fallen down, got green grass on their clothes, and their mom or dad yelled at them so now they associate fear with the color green," Ferraro told the UND news service.

How fear takes hold: Through fear transference

There's also a social component to some human phobias. We learn a lot of our behavior through observation, and this includes fear: "You see your mother panicking frantically in response to a wasp when you're a child, you'll likely be afraid of wasps too," neuroscientist Dean Burnett wrote in the Guardian.

How fear takes hold: Through instruction

We may even convince ourselves that something's incredibly scary thanks to receiving information (whether true or false) that something is threatening, a uniquely human phenomenon called instructional fear acquisition. A team led by New York University researcher Elizabeth Phelps found that if a person is told they might get a shock when a square of a certain color flashes on a screen, their amygdala will activate even without the shock, possibly because the brain creates an abstract representation of the pain. In a more real-world setting, instructional fear acquisition could be the reason you get the urge to avoid showers or flocks of birds after seeing a Hitchcock film.

How fear takes hold: Through inheritance

Another, less-well-understood factor in our fear is epigenetics — heritable changes outside of the changes to our genetic code. Goldin thinks that epigenetics could potentially explain a lot of the variance among people in terms of how they respond to and control their own fears.

(More from World Science Festival: 5 great scientists who never won a Nobel Prize)

"You have had, from birth to this moment, this whole trajectory of learning that sculpts your brain," Goldin says. "In addition to that, there's genetic factors that come from your mom and dad and beyond, even your grandparents, great-grandparents…things that happened to them are influencing what parts of your genetic code are or are not activated."

Evidence bears this out: In 2013, researchers published a paper in the journal Nature Neuroscience about an experiment in which they trained mice to associate the smell of the compound acetophenone (an odor another researcher describes as something like orange blossoms plus artificial cherry flavor) with pain. The scientists then saw that the offspring of those mice showed more signs of agitation and fear at the scent of acetophenone than control mice.

What can be done to fight the fear

Though fears can stem from many different sources, therapy can help undo the psychological knots of phobias. The treatment of choice these days is exposure-based cognitive behavioral therapy, in which a person works with a therapist to unlock the thought patterns underlying their fears, and also gradually learns to tolerate exposure to the phobic stimulus. An arachnophobe may talk about the realistic level of danger that spiders actually pose, then look at pictures of spiders, then get closer and closer to an actual spider.

So, if you shudder at snakes, pale at the sight of pigeons, or come undone when a clown honks his malevolent horn, don't despair. Your brain might be wired for fear, but it can be rewired just the same.

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Haha - perpetual motion machine?

Haha - perpetual motion machine?

Panah Rad originally shared:

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Thursday, 30 July 2015

Untrustworthy faces are more likely to get the death sentence

People who have faces that are judged as less trustworthy are given the death penalty more often than people viewed as trustworthy, according to recent research in the journal Psychological Science. The results “paint a somewhat alarming picture of how systems of legal punishment are vulnerable to the same biases in person perception that afflict everyday individuals,” write John Paul Wilson and Nicholas Rule, the authors of the paper.

This study builds on previous research suggesting that people judge the trustworthiness of faces with a high degree of consensus—we more or less agree on which faces count as trustworthy and which don’t.

People with less trustworthy faces are, unsurprisingly, less likely to be trusted by other people. Economic games played in psychology labs show that even children as young as five years old are less likely to trust these individuals, and that this effect holds even when there's information about the other person suggesting that they’re trustworthy.

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A 17th-Century Stanchi Painting Reveals the Rapid Change in Watermelons through Selective Breeding

Giovanni Stanchi (Rome c. 1645-1672). Oil on canvas. 38 5/8 x 52½ in. (98 x 133.5 cm.) / Courtesy Christie’s


Old master work paintings are frequently cited for their depiction of historical events, documentation of culture, or portraiture of significant people, but there’s one lesser known use of some paintings for those with a keen eye: biology. One such instance is this Renaissance still life of various fruits on a table by Giovanni Stanchi painted sometime in the 1600s that shows a nearly unrecognizable watermelon before it was selectively bred for meatier red flesh.

Horticulture professor James Nienhuis at the University of Wisconsin tells Vox that he’s fascinated by old still life paintings that often contain the only documentation of various fruits and vegetables before we transformed them forever into something more desirable for human use. You can read a bit more about the science behind the changes in watermelons over the last 350 years here. (via Kottke)

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What’s the Big Deal About the Pentaquark?

“Three quarks for Muster Mark!,” wrote James Joyce in his labyrinthine fable, Finnegan’s Wake. By now, you may have heard this

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Scream if you have to

An international team of neuroscientists from the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics, New York University and the

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A trip into bipolar brains

While people with Type I and the less-severe Type II bipolar disorder share some of the same symptoms, there are significant differences in the physical structure of their brains. Type I sufferers have somewhat smaller brain volume, researchers report in the Journal of Affective Disorders, while those with Type II appear to have less robust white matter.

As brain imaging technologies have advanced and matured over the past few decades, there's been considerable interest in understanding whether and how there are differences between the brains of people with mental illness and those without. In particular, neuroscientists studying depression have been interested in structural variation, such as differences in total brain volume. Still, the various forms of bipolar disorder have received somewhat less attention than others, such as major depression, schizophrenia, or autism.

That led Jerome Maller and colleagues at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, to look into whether there were structural differences among the brains of people with different sorts of bipolar disorder. Using standard MRI scans — much the same as you would get if you'd had a concussion or bleeding in the brain — on 16 Type I and 15 Type II bipolar patients along with 31 healthy control subjects, the team examined whether there were differences in gray matter, white matter, and cerebrospinal fluid. The team also used a relatively new technique called diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) to measure the integrity of the brains' white matter, the long nerves called axons that connect different brain regions to each other.

Overall, there was less total brain volume — gray and white matter volume added together — and more cerebrospinal fluid volume in bipolar patients than in healthy controls, consistent with other recent studies suggesting a connection between brain volume and depression. After controlling for total brain volume, however, Type II patients' brains were essentially the same as controls' brains, while Type I patients had relatively higher volume in the caudate nucleus and other areas associated with reward processing and decision making. DTI studies, meanwhile, revealed that while patients with Type I and II bipolar disorder had reduced white matter integrity relative to controls, the effect was stronger among those with Type II, particularly in the frontal and prefrontal cortex, suggesting that Type II bipolar disorder is in some way a cognitive dysfunction.

Though the results are intriguing, the authors point out that their study is just the start. The team didn't have access to data on how long patients had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, let alone how long they'd actually had the disease, which often goes undiagnosed for years or even decades. In addition to addressing those issues in future studies, the researchers also hope to improve sample sizes and gather additional data about factors such as medications, family history, and genetics.

Pacific Standard grapples with the nation's biggest issues by illuminating why we do what we do. For more on the science of society, sign up for its weekly email update or subscribe to its bimonthly print magazine.

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Studies find genetic signature of native Australians in the Americas

The exact process by which humanity introduced itself to the Americas has always been controversial. While there's general agreement on the most important migration—across the Bering land bridge at the end of the last ice age—there's a lot of arguing over the details. Now, two new papers clarify some of the bigger picture but also introduce a new wrinkle: there's DNA from the distant Pacific floating around in the genomes of Native Americans. And the two groups disagree about how it got there.

Prior to the advent of cheap DNA sequencing, there were all sorts of ideas regarding the peopling of the Americas. While migration across the Bering land bridge was the consensus opinion, it wasn't clear how many migrations took place—or even who, exactly, did the migrating. Because of the physical diversity of modern Native American populations, people have suggested additional migrations across the Pacific or even from Europe or Africa.

The Clovis people, who had what appears to have been the continents' first distinctive technology and culture, caused further confusion. Some argued that these represented the first humans in the Americas, while others argued they represented a distinct migration into a sparsely populated hemisphere. Language groups created their own confusion.

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ALMA Witnesses Assembly of Galaxies in the Early Universe for the First Time

The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) has detected the most distant clouds of star-forming gas yet found in

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Unusual Hybrid Animal and Wildlife Murals Painted by Alexis Diaz


Puerto Rican artist Alexis Diaz (previously) brings textures and patterns reminiscent of traditional engraving techniques to his murals of phantasmagorical creatures using only a paintbrush. Twisting tentacles, strange fusions of anatomy, beings wrapped in plants, all rendered atop colorful gradients create an unmistakable style Diaz has become famous for. You can see much more of his work here. (via Cross Connect)








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‘White graphene’ structures can take the heat

Three-dimensional structures of boron nitride might be the right stuff to keep small electronics cool, according to scientists

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Astronomers witness assembly of galaxies in the early Universe for the first time

An international team of astronomers led by the University of Cambridge have detected the most distant clouds of

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Wednesday, 29 July 2015

How to beat a polygraph

Judging by Doug Williams' business website, it doesn't look like he thought he had anything to hide. On, Williams, a former officer with the Oklahoma City Police Department turned anti-polygraph activist, promises to teach you how to prepare for (read: beat) a polygraph test — through his how-to manual, DVD, and personal training sessions. He frames his pitch as selling to a very nervous truth-teller, rather than to a liar, writing on his site: "Remember, just telling the truth only works about 50 percent of the time — so to protect yourself from being falsely accused of lying, you must learn how to pass!"

Nevertheless, a grand jury in Oklahoma decided that there is enough evidence that Williams is doing more harm than helping innocent people calm their nerves. In November, Williams was charged with multiple counts of mail fraud and witness tampering, for allegedly showing people how to lie and hide crimes in order to get security-clearance-level jobs with the federal government. Williams calls the charges against him an "attack on his First Amendment rights," and says that he's only being targeted because he is a vocal critic of a method that is "no more accurate than the toss of a coin in determining whether a person is telling the truth or lying."

On the accuracy aspect at least, he's got a point. In United States v. Scheffer, in 1989, the Supreme Court ruled that a judge could reject polygraph results in criminal cases, citing a general lack of scientific consensus as to their reliability. Many state and federal courts now consider them inadmissible as evidence. But it's a decision that's still up to individual judges. And even in places where polygraph tests may not be admissible in court, some branches of law enforcement still believe that they have other, non-prosecutorial value.

For instance, studies have shown that a polygraph can have a kind of placebo effect — that it can elicit new information from people who hadn't been fully cooperating before, who now feel that they have no choice but to come clean. In a majority of jurisdictions, cops and parole officers also use regular polygraph tests to keep post-conviction sex offenders accountable for their actions; researchers have suggested that the process alone discourages recidivism, whether or not the results are 100 percent accurate. (Other researchers disagree.)

But aside from those legal uses, it was the job-screening use of the polygraph that likely sparked federal prosecutors' interest in Williams' case. Last year, McClatchy reported on an unprecedented secret federal investigation of other polygraph instructors like Williams; Chad Dixon was sentenced to eight months in prison after pleading guilty to similar charges. Marisa Taylor and Cleve R. Wootson Jr. wrote, "The criminal inquiry, which hasn't been acknowledged publicly, is aimed at discouraging criminals and spies from infiltrating the U.S. government by using the polygraph-beating techniques."

It's probably worth remembering that news of the investigation came out in September 2013, after the "Summer of Snowden," a series of revelations that set the entire government reeling. A former National Security Agency employee, Russell Tice, told U.S. News & World Report that the agency regularly subjects its agents to polygraph tests, but that he and his colleagues had figured out how to pass every time. (Tips include biting your tongue to spike the sensors' output, and then visualizing cool beers on warm summer nights to reduce them.)

In their article for McClatchy, Taylor and Wootson also described the polygraph-prep instructors' methods, "which are said to include controlled breathing, muscle tensing, tongue biting, and mental arithmetic." The overall goal of the preparation process is to teach people to control the otherwise involuntary physical stress responses that the polygraph's sensors pick up on during the interview. Or, as Williams himself summed up quite simply in a recent tweet: "The polygraph operator monitors your respiration, GSR, & cardio. Get nervous on the wrong question & he calls you a liar!"

Many criminologists now believe that "getting nervous" shouldn't indicate a guilty conscience, and that consistent story-telling is a much better indicator of the truth. Psychologists are currently testing new techniques that "induce cognitive load" as potentially more accurate ways to weed out the lies. It takes more brainpower to keep an invented story consistent than it does to tell the truth, the theory goes. So interrogators can try to overwhelm their subjects with information, questions, and tasks, and see how flustered they get.

One review of the research explores methods like having the person draw the scene being described, tell the story in reverse-chronological order, describe the scene in detail from the perspective of a different physical vantage point, and even complete math problems in the middle of the interview. Even being made to maintain constant eye contact occupies the mind, so that can also make it more difficult for a liar to stay on message.

It's hard to say which interrogation method is harder for a liar to beat — manipulating subtle physiological blips, or keeping a complicated story straight while looking the examiner right in the eye and doing long division at the same time. But maybe it's also worth trying the simple, natural, low-tech option that's always been a recourse for liars everywhere: mock surprise. According to Doug Williams' indictment, one undercover agent apparently asked him what to do during the polygraph if he was asked about whether he had had any polygraph training. As in, should he lie about that? Williams apparently responded, "Look at them with an astounded look on your face…reverse it on him."

Pacific Standard grapples with the nation's biggest issues by illuminating why we do what we do. For more on the science of society, sign up for its weekly email update or subscribe to its bimonthly print magazine.

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Green 3D Printer Prints Living Designs From Organic “Ink”


Project PrintGREEN is turning 3D printers into on-demand gardeners after designing a “green” 3D printer in 2013. The printer produces living prints, printing customized objects in a variety of sizes and forms. The project was created at the University of Maribor in Slovenia, conceived of by students Maja Petek, Tina Zidanšek, Urška Skaza, Danica Rženičnik and Simon Tržan, with help from their mentor Dušan Zidar. The project’s goal is to unite art, technology, and nature, creatively producing living designs with the help of technology.

The “ink” in the machine is a combination of soil, seeds, and water which can be designed to print in any shape or letter. After drying, the muddy mixture holds its form and begins to sprout grass from the organic material. PrintGREEN’s slogan is a twist on the old conservationist motto, “think before you print,” telling their audience to “print, because it is green.” You can follow the project’s progress on their Facebook page here. (via My Modern Met)








all images by PrintGREEN

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Remake: Master Works of Art Reimagined, a New Book by Jeff Hamada

Salvador Dali, "The Ship," 1942-43, watercolor on paper, remake by Justin Nunnink

Salvador Dali, “The Ship,” 1942-43, watercolor on paper, remake by Justin Nunnink


Dante Gabriel Rossetti, “The Day Dream,” 1880, oil on canvas, remake by Tania Brassesco and Lazlo Passi Norberto

Four years ago, Booooooom creator Jeff Hamada asked the internet to join in on an art challenge to recreate their favorite old master paintings as contemporary photographs. The Remake Project sparked many professional and amateur artists to create elaborate sets, paint their bodies, paint their friends’ bodies, and take their own shot at works by artists from Dali to Magritte. This collection of original paintings and their contemporary counterparts has now taken the form of a book released through Chronicle Books titled Remake: Master Works of Art Reimagined.

The book features side-by-side page layouts of a selection of works from the original contest, displaying the photographic re-interpretations next to their old-world inspiration. Photographs range from the strikingly similar to loose interpretations, a grand spectrum of re-creations represented from the project’s open call. Remake: Master Works of Art Reimagined is now available in the Colossal Shop.

Rene Magritte, "The Lovers," 1928, oil on canvas, remake by Linda Cieniawska

Rene Magritte, “The Lovers,” 1928, oil on canvas, remake by Linda Cieniawska

Ramon Casas i Carbo, "After the Ball," 1895, oil on canvas, remake by Tania Brassesco and Lazlo Passi Norberto

Ramon Casas i Carbo, “After the Ball,” 1895, oil on canvas, remake by Tania Brassesco and Lazlo Passi Norberto

Jacques Louis David, "The Death of Marat," 1793, oil on canvas, remake by Adrianne Adelle

Jacques Louis David, “The Death of Marat,” 1793, oil on canvas, remake by Adrianne Adelle

Edward Hopper, "Nighthawks," 1942, oil on canvas, remake by Bastian Vice and Jiji Seabird

Edward Hopper, “Nighthawks,” 1942, oil on canvas, remake by Bastian Vice and Jiji Seabird


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Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Street Artists Collaborate with Mexican Government to Bring Vibrant Splash of Color to an Entire Neighborhood



In a fantastic attempt at urban renewal, the government of Mexico recently collaborated with a group of local street artists called Germen Crew to paint a 20,000 square meter mural across the facades of 209 homes in the district of Palmitas in Pachuca, Mexico. The project was intended to bring about visual and social transformation by temporarily providing jobs and, according to some reports, reduce crime and violence in the neighborhood. You can see a few more photos of the endeavor here. (via StreetArtNews)




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Faulty Support Strut Likely Caused SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket Failure

The in-flight failure of a critical support strut inside the second stage liquid oxygen tank holding a high

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The sugary secrets of candy-making chemistry

There's a real art to making candy — and a lot of science, too. Even the simplest sugary treat is shaped by complex chemistry. Here's some of the inventive science that goes on behind the scenes of making some of your favorite sweet treats:


Atomic fireballs get their burn from the same stuff as hot peppers

Atomic Fireballs take cinnamon flavors over the edge into mouth-searing spiciness. To add some heat to their sweets, the makers of Atomic Fireballs, the Ferrara Candy Company, add a bit of a chemical called capsaicin, a little molecule that also gives hot peppers their kick. (Ferrara claims that the amount of capsaicin in Atomic Fireballs is equivalent to about 3,500 Scoville Heat Units, or the same spiciness as a jalapeno pepper.)

(More from World Science Festival: 11 small wonders captured on camera)

So what makes capsaicin so spicy? When the chemical binds to your taste receptors, it opens up channels in cell membranes that allow calcium ions to rush in — which, from your cells' point of view, is the exact same thing that happens when they're exposed to uncomfortable amounts of heat. Water won't neutralize the burn, because capsaicin is insoluble in it. Milk, on the other hand, works to take away the pain because it contains casein, a fat-loving molecule that can glom onto capsaicin's fatty tail, making it easier for the spicy molecules to be washed away.


Chocolate cherries get a liquid center from enzymes

There are lots of different ways of making chocolate-covered cherries, also known as cherry cordials. Some are just whole cherries coated in chocolate, while other cordials are made by placing cherries and cherry syrup in a chocolate mold that's plugged up with even more chocolate. But there's another way of making cherry cordials that gets a little more involved in chemistry.

These cherry cordials are made by coating a cherry with a sugary paste containing the enzyme invertase, which breaks down sugar, and then rolling that paste-covered cherry in chocolate. Once the cordials are made, they're stored for a couple weeks to allow the enzyme to do its work. Some of the sucrose in the cherries is broken down into the more water-soluble dextrose and fructose. "In effect, the outer part of the cherry liquefies in its own syrup, leaving the cherry center swimming in liquid," David Chisdes, a candy chemist, told the Los Angeles Times. "This explains how these succulent candies can be made without there being a hole somewhere in the coating."


The many transformations of sugar syrup

A lot of different types of candy can be made from a simple mixture of sugar and water. The key is in how hot you heat the mixture. Heated sugar solution passes through several candy stages, corresponding to the concentration of sugar in the mixture:

Thread stage — occurs when the mixture is heated to between 230 degrees Fahrenheit and 235 degrees F, and corresponds to a sugar concentration of 80 percent. When placed in water, this syrup forms a little liquid thread. This syrup is good for pouring over ice cream, glazing fruits, or sweetening tea.

Soft-ball stage — occurs at between 235 and 240 degrees F and corresponds to a sugar concentration of 85 percent. When dropped in water, the mixture forms a soft ball. This stage is good for making fondants and fudge.

Firm-ball stage — occurs at between 245 and 250 degrees F, with a sugar concentration of 87 percent. When dropped in water, this stage forms a ball that's still malleable but which won't flatten as much as the soft-ball stage. At this point, the mixture is good for making caramels.

Hard-ball stage — occurs at between 250 and 265 degrees F, with a sugar concentration of 92 percent. When dropped in water, this stage forms a hard ball that's still a little bit yielding if you really squish it. Marshmallows, gummies, and rock candy are made from this stage.

(More from World Science Festival: What's the real danger from solar flares?)

Soft-crack stage — occurs at between 270 and 290 degrees F, with a sugar concentration of 95 percent. When dropped in water, this stage forms threads that are flexible. Saltwater taffy and butterscotch are cooked to this stage.

Hard-crack stage — occurs at between 300 and 310 degrees F, with a sugar concentration of 99 percent. When dropped in water, this stage makes hard, brittle threads. Hard-crack stage is used to make lollipops, toffees, and brittles.

Heat your mixture beyond these stages and you will enter the realm of caramelization. The water in the mixture has been boiled off, and now there is a complicated series of reactions happening in the sugar molecules themselves. In the process, volatile chemicals are released that give caramelized sugar its luscious flavor.

The cool chemistry of rock candy

Candy chemistry isn't just dependent on how you heat up your sugar mixture; how you cool it down is important too. Rock candy is made by heating up sugar water to the hard-ball stage, then slowly cooling it for several days in order to allow huge crystals of sugar to form. Part of what allows those big crystals to grow is a fundamental chemistry concept known as Le Chatelier's principle, which basically says that when conditions are shifted inside a system at equilibrium, the system will respond in an attempt to restore equilibrium. In this case, the decreasing temperature of the sugar solution provokes crystallization.

"A decrease in temperature causes a system to generate energy, in an attempt to bring the temperature up," science writer Tom Husband wrote in an in-depth look at rock candy for the American Chemical Society. Sucrose molecules join together to form crystals and "because the formation of chemical bonds always releases energy, more sucrose molecules will join the crystal in an attempt to increase the temperature."


Smooth fudge is a delicate chemical process

For candies with a smooth texture, like fudge, a confectioner wants to minimize crystallization as the sugar mixture cools. Crystallization needs some "seed" to kickstart the process, a pattern for the dissolved sugar in the cooling mixture to copy, which could be a tiny sugar crystal or even a piece of stray dust. In making fudge, keeping anything that can act as a crystal nucleus out is key.

(More from World Science Festival: 5 ways good science goes bad)

"This is why most fudge recipes require that the sides of the pot be washed down early in the cooking process, either with a wet pastry brush or by putting the lid on the pan for about three minutes to remove any sugar crystals clinging to the container walls," University of Alaska Fairbanks physicist Sue Ann Bowling wrote in a piece on fudgy physics. "It is also why the recipes specify that the sides and bottom of the pan should not be scraped into the bowl where the candy is to cool. There is too much chance of scraping in a stray sugar crystal."

Fudge recipes also counteract crystallization by recommending the use of more than one kind of sugar, like corn syrup as well as table sugar. Having different kinds of sugar in the solution means they interfere with the other's crystallization process, according to Bowling. Then, when the mixture has cooled enough, the fudge is stirred rapidly to stimulate crystallization all at once, which produces a fudge with lots of tiny crystals as opposed to fewer chunks of larger crystals — creating a taste that's creamy, not grainy.

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Stephen Hawking Helps Launch $100 Million Initiative to Find Extra-Terrestrial Life

On Monday, July 20, Cambridge cosmologist Stephen Hawking and Silicon Valley investor Yuri Milner announced a new \$100

The post Stephen Hawking Helps Launch \$100 Million Initiative to Find Extra-Terrestrial Life has been published on Technology Org.

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Monday, 27 July 2015

This scientific study is a con man's dream come true

How do you decide if you can trust someone? Is it based on their handshake, the way they look you in the eye, or perhaps their body language?

We know that what someone wears has an effect on our trust in them. If you happen to be a doctor, 76 percent of us will favor you if you wear the white coat, compared to only 10 percent if you happen to just pop out in your surgical scrubs. Labels matter too. In one test, four times as many people were willing to stop and answer a survey on one day compared to another. The difference? Whether or not the interviewer had a designer label on their sweatshirt. But what if you had to decide whether or not to trust someone without knowing the gear they were togged up in? Without knowing anything about them at all?

When people fall victim to fraud, often it is because they have decided to trust a stranger. In mass-marketing fraud (known widely as the 419 scam or advance fee fraud), an unsolicited e-mail contact offers false promises or information designed to con you out of money. You may have already received an e-mail from, for example, a Nigerian prince who desperately needs your bank details in order to move some money out of the country fast. Phishing fraud, where links in carefully crafted, apparently legitimate emails redirect users to a different server, into which they are persuaded to enter usernames, passwords, or bank account details, cost the UK £405.8m in 2012, according to RSA Security.

But what makes some people laugh and delete immediately, while others are curious enough to find out more?

Playing games

A recent study led by Tim Hahn from Goethe University in Frankfurt examined people's initial levels of trust when co-operating with an unknown partner.

Sixty participants were asked to play the trust game, an extension of an experimental economics game called the dictator game for which the participants were put into pairs. Player one was given an initial amount of hypothetical "money" that they could choose whether or not to gamble with. The gamble was this: They could give their money to the stranger they were paired with, player two, and anything they gave would be tripled. Player two could then choose to give some of this money back to Player one, and again, anything they returned would be tripled — or player two could choose to keep it all.

In theory then, the more generous you are in the beginning, the richer you could become by the end. To make it more exciting, the players were told that at the end of the trust game, this notional money would be converted into real hard cash.

As player one, how much would you give away to a complete stranger? Well if you happen to have an electroencephalograph (EEG) handy, you can find out without ever needing to play. An EEG records your brain activity by measuring the electrical pulses generated by the brain's cells through a series of electrodes placed on your scalp. In this study, the researchers found that they could predict the amount of money the initial player would trust to the stranger purely based on the activity recorded by the EEG.

A state of trust

But what makes this finding even more interesting is that the EEG recording was taken several minutes before the trust game began. At this point, the staff running the experiment had not asked the participants to think about the game of trust. What the EEG recorded was the resting state of the participants' brains when not involved in tasks — relatively calm — rather than the heightened activity associated with performing mental or physical tasks.

Resting state brain activity is thought to be relatively stable over time. So the fact that the experimenters were able to predict the investment that player one would make to the stranger, player two, was purely based on this resting state activity. And it shows that initial levels of trust may be determined by an underlying pattern of brain activity.

So, returning to those who have unfortunately answered our Nigerian prince, or foreign businessman, or even opened the door to a man "from the electricity board," what this study perhaps indicates is that, regardless of the contents of the email or how convincing the con is, we are already subject to an unconscious bias as to whether or not we will trust that stranger.

Not only are some of us physically more inclined to trust strangers than others, but that susceptibility can be determined by any unscrupulous character who happens to have an EEG scanner to hand.

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Advances in DNA tech pave way for convicts to get new tests on evidence

"No tradition is more firmly established in our system of law than assuring to the greatest extent that its inevitable errors are made in favor of the guilty rather than against the innocent."

That was the message from a US federal appeals court whose first-of-its-kind ruling (PDF) Friday opens the floodgates for criminals to demand fresh DNA testing if they were convicted by inconclusive or outdated DNA testing.

The legal flap—brought by a Montana man convicted of sexually abusing a 14-year-old girl in 2006—concerns the Innocence Project Act of 2004 (PDF). The measure, hailed by the defense bar, gave criminals three years to seek DNA testing of evidence after their conviction. Under that law, the three-year statute of limitations may be extended if a convict can demonstrate that there is "newly discovered DNA" evidence.

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European Collaboration Accelerates Silicon Photonics Prototyping Services

Silicon photonics has gained traction with a European collaboration successfully completing the development of advanced multi-project-wafer (MPW) services

The post European Collaboration Accelerates Silicon Photonics Prototyping Services has been published on Technology Org.

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Stunning high-res images of Pluto’s surface show “youthful terrain”

On Tuesday, New Horizons phoned home to inform NASA that it successfully executed its flyby of Pluto, coming within 12,500km (7,767mi) of the dwarf planet's surface. Having collected a ton of data, the spacecraft has begun the long process of transmitting it all back to Earth.

Among the first images transmitted back to NASA was a stunning, high-resolution image of Pluto's surface. Pictured above, the image covers an area near Pluto's equator and shows a mountain range with peaks as high as 3,350m (11,000 feet). There's also a noticeable lack of impact craters, which indicates that the surface of Pluto is relatively young. "This is one of the youngest surfaces we’ve ever seen in the solar system," said Jeff Moore of New Horizons’ Geology, Geophysics and Imaging Team.

The New Horizons team estimated the age of the mountains at 100 million years old, and it's thought that the area shown above, which covers less than one percent of Pluto's surface, depicts a geologically active area.

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An Abandoned Indonesian Church Shaped Like a Massive Clucking Chicken



Towering above the trees in a densely forested area of Indonesia lies a giant chicken. The gigantic structure has the body, tail, and head of the bird, even holding open its beak in what appears to be mid-squawk. Although the very old bird is quickly decaying, Gereja Ayam (as the locals call it) attracts hundreds of photographers and travelers to its location in Magelang, Central Java each year who are looking to explore the bird’s bizarre interior.

The building was originally built as a prayer house by 67-year-old Daniel Alamsjah after he received a divine message from God. Although he intended the building to resemble a dove, the locals care more that it looks like a chicken, nicknaming it “Chicken Church.” In addition to a prayer house, Alamsjah also used the building as a rehabilitation center, treating disabled children, drug addicts, and others. Alamsjah was forced to shut the center’s doors fifteen years ago after steep construction costs.

Currently five of the eight pillars holding up the building are crumbling while graffiti covers the inside walls. No longer a place for therapy, the building still serves as a place for worship and travel and according to locals—a private spot for many young couples to hide away from parents or prying eyes. (via Hyperallergic and Daily Mail)


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