SciTech Briefs

Regular walking raises chance of fracture

A five-year study on fracture occurrences in elderly Australian subjects has revealed a relationship between increased possibility of fracture and an exercise regime made up of frequent walking (three or more hours per week). Interestingly, subjects who spent two-and-a-half hours participating in vigorous physical activity did not have an association with increased fractures. All subjects were simultaneously assessed for sedentary behavior by documenting prolonged TV viewing; the study showed no correlation present between subjects with such behavior and increased fractures.

Source: The Journal of Bone and Mineral Research

Mental control of prosthetics progresses

Prosthetic devices are being developed with a direct interface with the brain. Besides mechanical prosthetics, which are currently the main solution for amputees, there are also prosthetics that respond to stimulation from the remaining muscle on the patient’s limb. The prosthetics are being developed by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, the University of Pittsburgh, and other institutions to allow the user to control a prosthetic limb with 22 degrees of motion, including independent movement of each finger. Human clinical trials are slated to begin this summer.

Source: Science

Bilingual speakers are better multitaskers

A new study led by Ellen Bialystok at York University shows that bilingual speakers consistently outperformed monolingual English-speaking subjects when tested with the Simon test. The Simon test, which is meant to assess mental performance, showed that bilingual speakers may be more capable of dealing with distractions than monolingual speakers. Bialystok hypothesizes that the bilingual speakers have more practice with control because they must simultaneously be able to remember both sets of vocabulary and grammar while still maintaining a separation between the two languages.

Source: The Washington Post

Cell phones help maintain clean water

Haiti’s aid workers are using cell phones to help maintain clean and cholera-free drinking water. Each Haitian family is assigned one 19-liter bucket, which will now be affixed with a radio-frequency identification tag (RFID). Using cell phones with near-field communication capabilities, the aid workers will “read” the tags to confirm they have visited and treated the water. When the RFIDs are read, a text message will be sent to the nonprofit Deep Springs International headquarters so that the treatment can be tracked. This will allow workers to be deployed more efficiently to families with greater need.

Source: The Washington Post

Black bear hibernation revealed

A recent study at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks has revealed details about black bear physiology during hibernation. Unlike small hibernating rodents, whose temperatures can drop to nearly 0°C, the black bear body temperature only drops to 6°C. However, metabolism during the bears’ prolonged sleep decreases to 25 percent of its normal rate, and the heart rate is reduced from 55 beats per minute to nine beats per minute. Further studies are suggested to understand the biochemical causes of the animals’ reduced heart rate and metabolism.

Source: The New York Times

**Anti-energy drink may combat insomnia **

New “relaxation beverages” are being marketed as an answer to insomnia and a way to simply get a better night’s sleep. The drinks, like energy drinks, offer chemical additives that change the natural cycles of the consumer. These drinks include ingredients such as melatonin, tryptophan, valerian root, and more. Such ingredients have been associated with a regular sleep cycle, though a cause-and-effect relationship has yet to be fully supported.

Source: Scientific American