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Talk nerdy to me

This week we explore the wonderful science of aging dogs, looking for life in all the right places, and so much more!  

Narrowing the search

With so many stars to gaze at in the night sky, it’s impossible to ignore the possibility that some form of life isn’t also gazing back. But this abundance of options also means that searching for habitable star systems is nearly impossible without some way to narrow the field.

<strong>Betting on life. </strong>Atmospheric chemistry is helping scientists zero in on planets most likely to possess the conditions for life, like this one with two moons orbiting within the habitable zone of a red dwarf star. Courtesy NASA/Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics/D. Aguilar. A study from Northwestern University has attempted to do just that by combining 3D modelling with atmospheric chemistry. In their study of M dwarf stars, the researchers concluded that planets orbiting stars that give off a lot of UV radiation lose liquid water to evaporation. That reduces the chances of life as we know it surviving there. What’s more, planets with thin ozone layers allow in too much UV radiation to harbor complex life.

By eliminating these unlikely candidates, researchers will be better able to direct their observations towards planets with a higher chance of harboring life.

Digital play, real stress

The perception of video games has changed immensely in recent years. Once derided as a waste of time, the sector has become intensely competitive. Intel is even hosting an international esports tournament right before the 2020 Olympics in Japan.

<strong>Competitive stress.</strong> Professional gamers experience as much stress during competition as athletes in sports like rugby and football. Of course, with more recognition comes more stress, and a study out of the University of Chichester suggests that video games are no longer always fun for their players. The researchers found that professional gamers experience stress in similar ways to players of physical sports.

Poor communication with teammates frustrates both physical players and esports competitors, as does the considerable stress of performing in front of a live audience. But fear not—the university’s new 3-year esports degree covers the physical and psychological impact of esports, including nutrition, coaching, and strategy.

How old is that doggie in the window?

<strong>They grow up so fast.</strong> Instead of relying on the old rule that 1 dog year equals 7 human years, scientists at the University of California have developed a new formula based on DNA methylation that more accurately reflects the canine aging process.Dogs are one of the purer joys of life. Our four-footed friends live and love a lot harder than we do, and that sadly translates to shorter lives. For a long time, humans have calculated canine lifespans with the formula of one dog year equals seven human years. This results in some strange math – Bluey, the oldest dog in the world, would be over 200 in human years using this formula.

To get a more accurate assessment, scientists at the University of California San Diego are tracking DNA methylation. As humans age, methyl groups are added to certain portions of our DNA. It’s not yet a perfected science, but we’ve begun to learn a lot about how methylation can help predict life expectancy.

This previous work in DNA methylation allowed the UC San Diego researchers to check if there were a similar aging process in Labrador retrievers. This resulted in the new dog age algorithm: 16 ln(dog age) + 31. You can try the calculator here.

While still not an exact representation, this formula can help you better understand where your furry friend is in their lifecycle.

Love buzz

There are few sounds more infuriating than a mosquito buzzing in your ear. By the time you’ve heard it, it’s too late to swat—and the bug seems to enjoy the taunt. But whether or not mosquitos relish how much they annoy us, we do know they want to be heard by other mosquitos. 

<strong>Love is in the air.</strong> Mosquitoes use their wings to fly and simultaneously direct their buzz at potential mates. Decoding how they do this could help design quieter drones—and control the mosquito population.Scientists at Johns Hopkins University have discovered that the buzz mosquitos make is partly a mating signal. Through the use of computational fluid dynamics (CFD), the researchers have concluded that the bugs use the same pair of wings to both fly and direct their signature noise towards a potential mate.

This research could enable two major developments. To begin with, studying how the mosquitoes make noise with their wings could allow us learn to keep drones and other flying devices quiet. And understanding the exact sounds for mating could enable us to disrupt mosquito reproduction and ultimately prevent insect-borne diseases like malaria.

Sensitive skin

When listing the advantages humans have over machines, natural skin is an overlooked superpower. It keeps contaminants from entering our body, is waterproof, built to stretch, and communicates a variety of sensations to the user. However, we might not have this advantage over our robotic friends for long.

Pinch me. Electronic interfaces inspired by human skin enable natural gesture detection like tickling, pinching, and stretching and could improve emotional communication with avatars and robots. Courtesy Marc Tessier.

Scientists at the University of Bristol, Telecomm ParisTech, and Sorbonne University have created the Skin-On interface, which is a membrane that acts like human skin. When connected with a device, such as a mobile phone, it allows the machine to pick up a variety of sensations.

This interface understands the difference between tickling and pinching, and the researchers believe it might be able to help with communication between humans and virtual characters. That is, if we can get used to touching devices covered with a creepy soft skin.

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