SciTech Briefs

Obesity interacts with human cognition

A recent study reports that obesity slightly diminishes memory and other cognitive processes. Researchers at Kent State University recruited 150 obese individuals for a series of cognitive tests, with the participants weighing on average just under 300 pounds. 75 percent of the individuals performed on the low end of the normal range for healthy individuals, while the rest fell within the impaired range. The decline is likely due to damage to neural wiring that connects the brain’s various information-processing regions.

Source: Science News

Brain implant still functional after 1,000 days

A woman who experienced a brainstem stroke that left her four limbs and vocal chords paralyzed demonstrated the ability to control a computer screen cursor by way of a computer chip implemented in her brain. The tiny silicon electrode array still proved functional after 1,000 days as the woman passed two simple tests on a computer screen: using a cursor to select targets arranged in a circle, and following and selecting a moving target that changed in size on the screen. A few engineering-related issues are hoped to be improved to increase signal quality.

Source: New Scientist

Further evidence of first Americans 15,000 years ago

Newly unearthed objects discovered northwest of Austin, Texas are said to be the most convincing pieces of evidence that humans resided in what is now North America before the so-called “Clovis culture,” a human settlement whose artifacts were first excavated near Clovis, N.M., in the 1930s. The virtually undisturbed layer of artifact-containing earth is located below Clovis deposits and is consistently dated at 13,500 to 15,500 years old. Some artifacts include knife blades, spear points, and thousands of flakes and chips, which allude to human workmanship.

Source: Science magazine

FDA approves new drug for skin cancer melanoma

A drug by the name “Yervoy” has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration to help prolong the lives of people with the skin cancer melanoma. Working by activating the body’s immune system to combat tumors, the drug prolonged the lives of clinical trial patients by four months over patients in a control group who received a treatment believed to have little effect on the cancer. However, the additional four months come with a hefty price tag: the complete three-month course of treatment costs around $120,000.

Source: The New York Times

Scientists study ‘Soundscape Ecology’

Biologists at Purdue University are studying what they refer to as “soundscape ecology,” the orchestration of all kinds of sounds coming from a particular ecosystem, such as a forest, that may be a unique measure of the overall state of health of the ecosystem. Along with understanding how various animals interact, a larger goal of the field of study is to understand how human-produced sounds, such as airplanes flying overhead, can affect ecosystem health and behavior.

Source: NPR

Chat abbreviations added to Oxford English Dictionary

LOL, OMG, and FYI have been added to the March 2011 release of the online Oxford English Dictionary (OED). These abbreviations for “laugh out loud,” “oh my God,” and “for your information,” respectively, will accompany other shorthands like BFF (best friends forever) and TMI (too much information). OED stated that it has seen occurrences of these abbreviations before the Internet was even invented; uses of OMG and FYI were seen in personal letters in 1917 and 1941, respectively.

Source: PC Magazine