September 29, 2011 at 10:18 am | Posted in I didn't know that!, Science Lite | Leave a comment
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Credit: admiller

We all get bouts of hiccups – squeeky little ones, or ones that come right from your boots that really hurt. Why we get them is a mystery, but what we do know is they can be really annoying – sometimes even embarrassing!

Most cases of hiccups occur for no apparent reason. Sometimes we get them after a few too many beers down the pub at lunch time, or if we’ve scoffed our dinner too quickly. But did you know hiccups can also be caused by shock, stress or excitement?

A sudden change in room temperature or the temperature inside your stomach can also cause hiccups.  Hiccups – or hiccoughs as they’re sometimes known – occur when your diaphragm suddenly and involuntarily contracts. This causes you to breathe air in very quickly, but this air is stopped by the glottis – the opening between your vocal cords – which closes suddenly, producing a hiccup!

So what’s the best way to get rid of them? Holding your breath, getting a fright, or drinking a glass of water backwards – yes…this task is particularly hard but by the time you’re done the hiccups have gone!

But what about those who have hiccups for long periods? They can be caused by a more serious underlying condition such as gastro-oesophageal reflux disease or inflammation of the stomach, throat ot thyroid gland. What can be done to rid them of the involuntary nightmare? The nastiest we read was puttingvinegar up the nose of a three year-old girl in Japan: it’s thought the vinegar helps stimulate the dorsal wall of the naopharynx where the pharyngeal branch of the glossopharayngeal nerve is located.

We’ll stick to drinking water backwards thanks!


The office party…why we get drunk

September 22, 2011 at 10:44 am | Posted in 40th birthday celebrations, Editorial Comment | 2 Comments
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Its our 40th birthday next month – hurrah – and we intend to celebrate. But just like the office Christmas party, we need to make sure we don’t embarrass ourselves by getting too intoxicated!

Why is it that we always get drunk at the office party? New research from the University of Birmingham – published in Alcohol and Alcoholism – suggests drinking in an unfamiliar environment can lead to an inability to reign in unsuitable behaviour. When drinking in familiar environments, we learn a conditioned compensatory response that enables us to learn the anticipated effects of alcohol – but when in an unfamilar context we lose this response say researchers.

“The implications for drinking in a real life situation are that if you have an alcoholic drink somewhere new, for example, at the office party or in some other environment that you don’t associate with alcohol, you may experience more of these effects of disinhibition because you lack the conditioned compensatory response that you would experience in your usual drinking environment,” said Dr Suzanne Higgs, lead investigator.

So our advice – once you know where the office party is going to be – head over there for a few drinks before the night – it might just save embarrassment!

Laboratory News on the road….

September 20, 2011 at 12:54 pm | Posted in On the road | Leave a comment
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We hit the road with our friends at the UK Boarding Schools Guide and visited Bradfield College near Reading.

The college opened the Blackburn Science Centre – named after old boy David Blackburn OBE – last year, and it’s one of the most amazing places we’ve had the pleasure of visiting. Built on the site of the old biology block, this brand-spanking new building boasts state-of-the-art labs, preprooms and classrooms.

But more than that – it’s got a bespoke programme written by Siemens which monitors energy and water consumption against energy and water generation. It’s got a BREEAM rating of excellent – meaning the building meets the sustainable and environmental standards it was expected to. You can even follow what’s going on online!

We were shown around by Head of Science, Rob Dethridge, who happened to mention that since the building had been open, there had been a 40% increase in the number of students wanting to take science – they even had to continue using two temporary classrooms as demand was so high.

Whether it was the new facilities, or the fact the science is becoming more attractive I don’t know, but this can only be a good thing. It was hard not to be in awe – everywhere there was something to attract your attention, whether it was the pupil’s work on the walls, the solar panels and grassland on the roof, or the fish tank photoframe in the biology corridor.

It certainly was  stimulating place – lets hope this is a future of science which can be applied to all schools.

For more image os the school’s new science lab check out our Facebook page

You’re having a laugh?

September 15, 2011 at 8:53 am | Posted in Science Lite | Leave a comment
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Laughter, they say, is the best medicine. Strange then, that the world’s pharmaceutical companies have yet to cotton on to this and develop a cure-all in the form of a simple laughing pill.

Could it be that the laughter/medicine link is simply cosy phraseology, with no actual link to biology? Well yes, of course it is – yet associations betwixt the two are, it seems, becoming apparent. So much so in fact that the study of the health benefits of laughter now has its own name – indeed, if you do ever happen upon a professor of parody, a doctor of drollery or a medic of mirth, then you’ll know they are proud members of the Gelotological circle.

Yet we can’t help think that the physical rendering of an emotional state rooted deep in the ancestral parts of our brains can surely achieve nothing of note medically? As you can tell, the inner cynic that constantly patrols the Science lite desk is growing ever more alert, growling and drooling like a distempic hound primed for its next kill.

So what, exactly, do these purveyors of prankery (…sorry, this will stop in a moment. Largely as we are rapidly running out of synonyms) think laughing will achieve medically speaking? Well, they say there are so many that we are resorting to bullet points. A cheeky chuckle will can:

  • Lower blood pressure.
  • Increase vascular blood flow and oxygenation of the blood.
  • Give a workout to the diaphragm and abdominal, respiratory, facial, leg, and back muscles.
  • Reduce certain stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline.
  • Increase the response of tumor- and disease-killing cells such as Gamma-interferon and T-cells.
  • Defend against respiratory infections–even reducing the frequency of colds–by immunoglobulon in saliva.
  • Increase memory and learning; in a study at Johns Hopkins University Medical School, humor during instruction led to increased test scores.
  • Improve alertness, creativity.

And so it appears our collective cynicism has been shot down in flames. The beast rests once again. It is the last two of these points that really strike home – essentially the gelotologists seem to be saying that a good, hearty guffaw could actually help you think. Interesting in its self of course, but especially as it is once again time for the Ig Nobels.

If you are not aware of the Ig Nobels – then let us introduce you to the highlight of the international scientific calendar. The Igs honour achievements that “first make people laugh, and then make them think” – although knowing what we now do from the insights of gelotology, perhaps that should be “first make people laugh and then make them think in an altogether more superior way”.

This year’s winners are to be announced on the 29th September, and while we’d dearly love to give you a rundown of the front runners, we’re afraid finding out nominees prior to the event has become harder than winning an actual Nobel Prize. So by way of a little appetite wetter, here are some of our favourite past winners.

First up is the winner of the 1994 entomology prize Robert A. Lopez. And what a winner he was – as scientifically dedicated as he was entirely out of his mind. In 1993 he published work in The Journal of the American Veternary Medical Association based on a series of experiments in which he obtained ear mites from cats, and proceeded to insert them into his own ear, whilst carefully observing and analysing the results.

Then we have Peter Fong of Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania who is definitely up there with Lopez in the ‘why would you do that’ stakes. In 1998 he won an Ig for his paper Induction and Potentiation of Parturition in Fingernail Clams (Sphaerium striatinum) by Selective Serotonin Re- Uptake Inhibitors (SSRIs). In short, he gave clams Prozac.

Our next pick comes from the 2000 psychology prize which was awarded to David Dunning of Cornell University and Justin Kruger of the University of Illinois, for a report in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Now, we are slightly reticent to publish the title of the paper for fear that our Editor will immediately assume it is a detailed description of the Science lite desk – but in the interests of accuracy here goes: Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments.

And our final pick of the Igs goes to the Medicine winners of 2010 – Simon Rietveld of the University of Amsterdam and Ilja van Beest of Tilburg University – for discovering that symptoms of asthma can be treated with a roller-coaster ride. Why? Well it turns out that positive emotions at the end of the ride helped sufferers with breathlessness. Someone should report this to the Gelotological gang – yet more evidence that laughter can be the best medicine.

Watch: The Apollo moon landings – in 4D!

September 13, 2011 at 8:50 am | Posted in Watch | Leave a comment
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For all those who ever wanted to feel the impact of a Saturn V rocket launch, be part of a moon landing and even discover the smell of space – now you can in the Legend of Apollo at the Science Museum’s 4D cinema.  You can experience being part of the ground-breaking Apollo missions of the 1960’s and 1970’s through NASA film archives, exceptional 3D computer animation and the personal reminiscences of former NASA Apollo astronaut Col. David R. Scott.

The Legend of Apollo 4D film uses the latest simulation and effects technologies.

More information at  www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/visitmuseum/galleries/force_field.aspx

The British Science Festival

September 8, 2011 at 8:49 am | Posted in Do | Leave a comment
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The British Science Festival is one of Europe’s largest science festivals and this year’s event hits the streets of Bradford between the 10th and 15th of September. The theme for the 2011 Festival is ‘Exploring new worlds’ and there are lots of things to everyone entertained – from family fun experiment with the kids, DIY science workshops and lunchtime discussions to evening events for adults and trips, tours and exhibitions throughout the week.

For more information visit http://www.britishscienceassociation.org/web/BritishScienceFestival/

The Periodic Table: Its Story and Its Significance by Eric R Scerri

September 6, 2011 at 8:41 am | Posted in Competition, Read | 3 Comments
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With the discovery of two new chemical elements this year – and the return of the Lab News Periodic Table Wallchart – we thought it only appropriate to suggest a suitable chemistry-based read for this month. And what better than The Periodic Table: Its Story and Its Significance by Eric R Scerri.

The book begins with an overview of the importance of the Periodic Table, taking the reader on a journey of the early development of the chemical elements and their classification from Lavoisier, Boyle and Dalton and Cannizzaro to Mendeleev, Bohr and Lewis and Bury.

Unsurprisingly, the book has gained much praise and it’s easy to see why. It’s informative, but Scerri’s style is informal and engaging and it’s no wonder it’s been labelled as a must read for all chemists, but it’s certainly an equally enjoyable read for anyone with an interest in chemistry and the Periodic Table.

The Periodic Table: Its Story and Its Significance by Eric R Scerri, Oxford University Press, 2007, £22.50 http://www.oup.com/us/catalog/general/subject/Chemistry/?view=usa&ci=9780195305739

And we’ve got four copies of The Periodic Table thanks to Eric R Scerri himself! To be in with a chance of winning, just send your name, organisation/institution and address to phil.prime@laboratorynews.co.uk by 30th September.

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