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Talk nerdy to me

Let’s Talk Nerdy about measuring sweat, why we talk with our hands, green construction materials, and more!

Sweat the details

More than 30 million people purchased an Apple Watch in 2019. Countless others use wearable devices to count daily steps, track sleep patterns, and monitor their heart rate. Now there’s a new bodily metric to track: sweat.

<strong>How much you sweat</strong> can provide valuable biodata for tracking emotions and athletic performance. A new system called Affective Health translates those signals into visualizations for users to interpret. A team of researchers from Sweden and the UK have developed a system called Affective Health that interprets the electrical signals produced by skin conductance and translates them into engaging visualizations.

Twenty-three people wore the prototype device for a month. They were informed that the system collected information about physical and emotional reactions based on sweat, but they weren’t told what this information was useful for.

Some participants used the biodata visualizations to manage stress, while others applied the information to athletic training regimes. But very few people used the data for more than one purpose.

As a result, the researchers suggest that a deliberately open design phase for biodata technologies can allow users to develop their own ideas of a device’s purpose. In a second stage, researchers can tailor the device for specific activity.

Meaningful gestures

Do you gesture with your hands when you speak? Most people do. Communications researchers think that we use gesturing to emphasize key points or clarify specific ideas. But what if there were another reason?

<strong>Getting your point across.</strong> New research suggests that moving your hands while you talk might serve the purpose of altering your voice to reflect the body's physical state. Researchers at the University of Connecticut (UConn) wondered if physical gestures affect the sounds a speaker makes by altering the shape of the chest, lungs, and vocal muscles. The team asked volunteers to move their dominant hand as if chopping wood while continuously speaking the sound “a” is in “cinema.”  They were told to keep the sound as steady as possible.

Then the team played audio recordings to people who could not see the speakers. Even by sound alone, the listeners could tell when speakers moved their arms. Their perception was so accurate the listeners could move their own arms in time to the rhythm they heard.

UConn psychologist James Dixon says that gesturing allows a speaker to convey information not just about the mind but also the state of the body. The findings are in line with research on nonhuman animals, showing that vocalizations carry information about the circumstances of the body.

Constructing the future

Did you know that 8% of the Earth’s greenhouse gas emissions come from the production of concrete? Building new offices and apartment blocks isn’t good for the health of the planet.

<strong>Building green.</strong> A new rubber polymer made from sulfur and canola oil could be made into sustainable construction materials that can be recycled.But here’s some good news. Scientists in Australia have found a way to make ‘green’ bricks and construction materials from recycled PVC, waste plant fibers, or sand. The technique, labelled ‘reactive compression molding,’ is applied to rubber material made of sulfur and canola oil that can be compressed and stretched without melting.

The result is a powdered rubber that can be mixed with other fillers to form new composites for more sustainable building blocks, insulation, or even a replacement for concrete. The resulting rubber material can be repeatedly ground up and recycled—and even used to purify water.

A farewell to dinosaurs

Sixty-six million years ago an asteroid collided with the Earth. The resulting nuclear winter wiped out the dinosaurs, along with 75 percent of life on the planet.

<strong>Worst-case scenario.</strong> 3D simulations based on geophysical data reveal that the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs struck the Earth at the worst possible angle to cause maximum destruction. Courtesy Gerhard Boeggemann. <a href='https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5/deed.en'>(CC BY-SA 2.5)</a>Scientists from Imperial College London have discovered that the asteroid was so devastating because it struck the Earth at the ‘deadliest possible’ angle. Using geophysical data from the location of impact (a crater known as Chicxulub) and 3D numerical impact simulations, the researchers reproduced the event in 3D from start to finish.

Their simulations show that the asteroid struck at a steep angle, about 60 degrees above the horizon. The sharpness of the angle allowed more hazardous debris to enter the upper atmosphere and scatter uniformly—leading to that nuclear winter and the ensuing chain of events that led to the dinosaurs’ demise.

Unexpected galaxy

A recent discovery is challenging astronomers to think about galaxy formation in a new way. A massive disk galaxy, similar to our Milky Way, was recently spotted thanks to the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) radio telescope in Chile.

<strong>But you don’t look that old.</strong> The newly-discovered Wolfe Disk galaxy exhibits traits of much younger galaxies but scientists believe it was formed more than 12.5 billion years ago. Nicknamed the Wolfe Disk after late astronomer Arthur M. Wolfe, the newly discovered galaxy formed 12.5 billion years ago when our universe was a tenth of its current age. But scientists would normally expect such a well-developed galaxy to have formed much later. The early universe was a messy place of violent mergers of small galaxies, unlikely to result in well-ordered rotating disks like this one.

Instead, astronomers suspect the Wolfe Disk grew through the accretion of cold gas. But they still struggle to explain how this galaxy could have remained so stable if that was the case. The discovery of the Wolfe Disk suggests that other early rotating disk galaxies are not as rare as astronomers once thought.

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