SciTech Briefs

Elephant in South Korea ‘speaks’ basic phrases

Koshik, an elephant living at the Everland Zoo in South Korea, is able to emulate elementary Korean speech. By sticking his trunk into his mouth, Koshik is able to utter the five Korean words for “hello,” “sit down,” “no,” “lie down,” and “good.” Native speakers of the language are able to understand these utterances, so the elephant has become a popular tourist attraction. It is unlikely, however, that Koshik understands the words he says.

Although it’s unclear why Koshik makes the sounds, cognitive biologist Angela Stoeger believes “...that Koshik started to adapt his vocalizations to his human companions to strengthen his social affiliation with them.”

Source: Reuters

Tree of Life created for living bird species

Scientists have created a phylogenetic tree — a branching map of evolutionary relations between species — for all 9,993 of the world’s living bird species.

“This is the first dated tree of life for a class of species this size to be put on a global map,” said Walter Jetz, an evolutionary biologist at Yale University who participated in the study. However, some scientists are critical of the tree, claiming that its sheer magnitude allows for the extrapolation of evolutionary trends that don’t exist.

The tree was constructed based on the genetic information of around 6,600 species — the other 3,300 were grouped based on constraints such as genus membership.

Source: Nature

Researchers find post-adolescent cyberbullying

A recent study by United Kingdom researchers at the University of Sheffield and Nottingham University reveals that cyberbullying still goes on long after adolescence: It is prominent in the workplace as well. Out of a survey conducted among 320 United Kingdom university employees, around eight out of 10 claimed to have been a victim of cyberbullying at least once in the past six months.

Another 14–20 percent claimed to be victims of cyberbullying on a weekly basis — a rate similar to that reported by those bullied in person. The researchers plan to release suggestions for ways employers can foster cyberbullying-free environments in the workplace.

Source: Science Daily

MIT researchers reveal robotic arm prototype

Fans of the Spiderman supervillain Doctor Octopus are sure to appreciate the work of Federico Parietti and Harry Asada. The two Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers are working on a prototype pair of wearable robotic arms that will use advanced algorithms to detect and facilitate the intent of its user. The research was funded by Boeing, and the scientists believe the arms could be very helpful to factory workers or those performing complex do-it-yourself tasks.

“It’s bold and out of keeping with anything I’ve ever seen to attach two arms to a human,” said Dave Barrett, a roboticist and mechanical engineer at Olin College in Needham, Mass.
Source: New Scientist

Researchers observe light from earliest stars

Astronomers at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center in California are claiming they have spotted light from the very first stars in the universe. These stars’ specific glow, known as extragalactic background light (EBL), comes from stars that existed when the universe was as young as 600 million years old — very early in its existence, compared to the universe’s present age of 13.7 billion years. The scientists did not measure the EBL directly, but instead detected it by analyzing measurements made by NASA’s Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope.

Stars from this period in the universe’s history were more massive and burned brighter than today’s stars.


Android running on three out of four smartphones

The industry research firm International Data Corporation (IDC) released a report claiming that three out of every four smartphones runs a version of Google’s Android operating system. This is an increase from this time last year, when the statistic was at 57.5 percent.

“Google has a thriving, multifaceted product portfolio. Many of its competitors, with weaker tie-ins to the mobile OS, do not,” according to the IDC report.
While Google widened the gap between rival Apple, most of the gains were made at the loss of sales by Blackberry and Symbian.

Source: ZDNet, Reuters