SciTech Briefs

Birds find a friend in LEED

Some emerging building technologies are being called “bird-friendly” by the American Bird Conservancy. The group has worked with the U.S. Green Building Council to incorporate such measures into the Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design (LEED) green building rating system. These largely consist of increasing the “visual noise” of reflective glass that birds often crash into. One example is to colorize windows with ultraviolet markings, which are perceptible in a bird’s vision but not in a human’s. In the U.S. alone, up to one billion birds die from colliding with buildings annually.

Source: American Bird Conservancy

How to avoid stress: Ride a bus

Swedish researchers recently published findings on how the duration and mode of a daily commute are correlated with negative health outcomes. According to the study, long commutes are generally tied to heightened levels of stress, poor sleep quality, and degraded general health. The overall trend, both for drivers and transit riders, was that the longer one’s commute, the worse the effects are on one’s health. Interestingly, transit riders with commuting times less than a half hour experienced less stress compared to the the control group (“active” commuters who biked or walked to work in under thirty minutes).

Source: The Atlantic-Cities

Looking for aliens in the dark

Astronomers engaged in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence scan radio frequencies hoping to find anomalous signals that might indicate life elsewhere in the universe. In a recent paper, astronomers from Harvard and Princeton argue for another approach: look for aliens when it is dark outside. The researchers figure that extraterrestrial civilizations would illuminate their planets during the dark diurnal cycle as we do, and they have developed a technique that can look for this type of light.

Source: Earth and Planetary Astrophysics

Cheer up, you might live longer

Eleven thousand people over the age of 50 were recently studied in an effort to correlate happiness with lifespans. The study found that subjects with more positive moods were less likely to die in the five years that the study lasted. Four times a day, researchers asked subjects to rate their mood (e.g. how happy, worried, or anxious they felt). Similar previous studies are flawed, according to lead researcher Andrew Steptoe of University College London, in that they use an unreliable metric to assess happiness. The problem is getting subjects to “assess how they are actually feeling [versus] how they remember feeling.” By asking about mood at regular and frequent intervals, researchers were able to pinpoint the effect of day-to-day happiness on the lifespan in old age.

Source: ScienceNow

Giant amoebas found in deep sea

Using cameras sealed in high-pressure resistant glass bubbles, scientists from the Scripps Institute for Oceanography have found gigantic amoebas living deep within the Mariana Trench of the Pacific Ocean. These single-celled organisms, named xenophyophores, often grow longer than four inches and were found at a depth of 6.6 miles, two miles deeper than in any other previous study. According to Doug Bartlett, the lead scientist of the expedition, “the identification of these gigantic cells in one of the deepest marine environments on the planet opens up a whole new habitat for further study of biodiversity, biotechnological potential, and extreme environment adaptation.”

Source: Scripps Institute of Oceanography News

This is your brain on dreams

In a recently published experiment, self-proclaimed “lucid dreamers” — people who are aware that they are dreaming and can control their actions within the dreams — were put into a brain scanner by German psychiatrist Martin Dresler. The subjects were instructed to perform a simple task while dreaming: alternately clench and unclench their hands into a fist. The brain scans of the dreams almost identically resembled brain scans of people actually performing the task while awake, as well as imagining performing the task. Although a simple example, this is the first evidence scientists have that the dreaming brain behaves like the awake brain.

Source: The Economist