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Talk nerdy to me

This week we look at what multitasking does to your wellbeing, meet a llama that’s trending in COVID-19 research, investigate the case of the missing planet, and more.

Fatty foods clog more than your arteries

Many scientific studies give us the facts behind what we already know to be true. For instance, Ohio State University researchers just discovered that fatty foods are linked to an immediate decrease in cognitive functions.

<strong>Eating a meal high in saturated fats</strong> was shown to decrease cognitive functions. The same meal prepared with unsaturated fats did not have the same effect.And it’s not just the fat that matters, but what kind. The scientists asked 51 women to either eat a meal high in saturated fats or high in unsaturated fats. The women who ate the healthier unsaturated fats performed better on a test of their attention than those who had eaten the saturated fats.

The difference between this study and previous ones is that loss of focus was caused by only one meal. Previous studies examined the effects of an overall diet. This research gives credence to the idea that a single fatty meal can alter your brain’s ability to function properly.

Multitasking madness

Modern jobs often feel like a balancing act. Between meetings, your normal duties, COVID-19 changes, and that extra task you picked up as a favor to your boss, your job probably asks a lot of you. 

<strong>Interruptions make you grumpy.</strong> Characteristic facial snapshots of a research participant show the presence of mixed emotions while multitasking. Courtesy University of Houston. As it turns out, all that extra work isn’t great for your mental health. A study from the University of Houston has found that multitasking in the workplace is directly related to negative emotions such as sadness and fear. 

By studying people’s faces while they answered emails, the researchers found that those who were interrupted by new emails as they worked had a higher frequency of negative emotions flash across their face. So, if you’re feeling overwhelmed by work right now, it might be best to slow down and tackle one task at a time. 

Llama drama 

Llamas have been trending lately in everything from weddings to toys and home décor. But did you know they are also very popular in antibody research?

<strong>On trend for the pandemic.</strong> Llama antibodies may hold the key to neutralize many types of coronavirus. Winter, a 4-year-old llama from Belgium, certainly knows this—or at least her handlers do. Due to important similarities between llama and human antibodies, Winter was chosen for previous research on SARS and MERS. When these trials went well, the researchers decided to continue studying how Winter’s antibodies might react to the virus that causes COVID-19.

In addition to our similarities, llama antibodies differ in that they can access small pockets on the spike proteins that help viruses infect a host. Therefore, scientists are hopeful Winter’s antibodies could help us successfully fight back against COVID-19.

None like it hot

Ever been out on a city street in the summer and felt like you were going to melt? That’s because if you’re a pedestrian, you get hit by the heat radiated back at you from the asphalt.

<strong>Taking the heat.</strong> ASU scientist Ariane Middel with a MaRTy unit that measures all of the factors on a city street that add up to how hot a pedestrian actually feels. Courtesy Ken Fagan/ASU Now.That’s why the Los Angeles Bureau of Street Services is taking a bold step forward by repainting black asphalt with solar-reflecting coatings. The idea is that, rather than suck up heat like asphalt, these new coatings will reflect the sun’s rays and keep city streets cooler.

Arizona State University scientists used mobile biometeorological instrument platforms—otherwise known as MaRTy 1 and MaRTy 2, to find out if the tactic works. They found that the surface temperature of the newly coated asphalt was 6 degrees Celsius cooler in the afternoon than uncoated streets. Sounds great, right?

Not so fast. The researchers also found that radiant heat in the air above the asphalt was 4 degrees Celsius higher than in non-treated areas. Turns out, the reflective-coated surfaces keep the asphalt itself cooler, but reflect increased heat back onto pedestrians. So until someone invents the personal air conditioner city dwellers will just have to rely on a proven summer cool-down: ice cream—lots of ice cream.

Disappearing planet

How can a planet just disappear? That’s what astronomers had to ask themselves when a newly discovered exoplanet named Fomalhaut b seemed to vanish from its star system.

<strong>Cosmic crash.</strong> The collision of two 125-mile-wide icy, dusty bodies orbiting the bright star Fomalhaut may have caused an expanding dust cloud that was mistaken for a planet. Courtesy ESA, NASA, and M. Kornmesser. Fomalhuat b was announced in 2008, based on data from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. The exoplanet was clearly visible in data collected by the telescope in 2004 and 2006. But when new images of the area were taken in 2014, Fomalhaut b was nowhere to be seen.

Astronomers from the University of Arizona now believe the fraudulent planet was most likely an expanding cloud of dust resulting from the crash of two icy bodies.

This might seem like a big disappointment, but for astronomers this collision is actually more interesting than discovering a new planet. Finding evidence of this kind of cosmological event is extremely rare, and scientists can now endeavor to learn more about how planets destroy each other.

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